Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Fluffy Stuff by May Swenson


The Fluffy Stuff

I want the fluffy stuff to keep coming down.
I’m looking into the garden from the third floor.
I wait for it to settle on brownstone windowsills,
on fire escapes, their narrow iron stairs.
Thin-as-tissue bits fall and rise on spirals of air
like meandering moths, and never reach the ground.
At last, dead vines on the trellis in the sooty
backyard begin to whiten. There sprouts a mat
of white grass. Tips of pickets on the fence
get mittens. Chimney tops in the opposite block
have their hoods and copings furred. The fluffy
stuff catches in crotches of the old ailanthus
whose limbs, like long dark cats stretching
on their backs, expose white bellies.

What began gauzy, lazy, scarce, falls willingly now.
I want it to race straight down, big, heavy, thick,
blind-white flakes rushing down so plentiful, so
opaque and dense that I can’t see through the curtains.

 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Forgetfulness by Billy Collins


Forgetfulness

The name of the author is the first to go 
followed obediently by the title, the plot, 
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel 
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of, 

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor 
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, 
to a little fishing village where there are no phones. 

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye 
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag, 
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets, 

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps, 
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay. 

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember, 
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue 
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen. 

It has floated away down a dark mythological river 
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall 

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those 
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle. 

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night 
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war. 
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted   
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Black, Poured Directly into the Wound by Patricia Smith


Black, Poured Directly into the Wound

Prairie winds blaze through her tumbled belly, and Emmett’s
red yesterdays refuse to rename her any kind of mother.
A pudge-cheeked otherwise, sugar whistler, her boy is
(through the fierce clenching mouth of her memory) a
grays-and-shadows child. Listen. Once she was pretty.
Windy hues goldened her skin. She was pert, brown-faced,
in every wide way the opposite of the raw, screeching thing
chaos has crafted. Now, threaded awkwardly, she tires of the
sorries, the Lawd have mercies. Grief’s damnable tint
is everywhere, darkening days she is no longer aware of.
She is gospel revolving, repeatedly emptied of light, pulled
and caressed, cooed upon by strangers, offered pork and taffy.
Boys in the street stare at her, then avert their eyes, as if she
killed them all, shipped every one into the grips of Delta. She sits,
her chair carefully balanced on hell’s edge, and pays for sanity in
kisses upon the conjured forehead of her son. Beginning with A,
she recites (angry, away, awful) the alphabet of a world gone red.
Coffee scorches her throat as church ladies drift about her room,
black garb sweating their hips, filling cups with tap water, drinking,
drinking in glimpses of her steep undoing. The absence of a black
roomful of boy is measured, again, again. In the clutches of coffee,
red-eyed, Mamie knows their well-meaning murmur. One says She
a mama, still. Once you have a chile, you always a mama. Kisses
in multitudes rain from their dusty Baptist mouths, drowning her.
Sit still, she thinks, til they remember how your boy was killed.
She remembers. Gush and implosion, crushed, slippery, not a boy.
Taffeta and hymnals all these women know, not a son lost and
pulled from the wretched and rumbling Tallahatchie. Mamie, she
of the hollowed womb, is nobody’s mama anymore. She is
tinted echo, barren. Everything about her makes the sound sorry.
The white man’s hands on her child, dangled eye, twanging chaos,
things that she leans on, the only doors that open to let her in.
Faced with days and days of no him, she lets Chicago — windy,
pretty in the ways of the North — console her with its boorish grays.
A hug, more mourners and platters of fat meat. Will she make it through?
Is this how the face slap of sorrow changes the shape of a
mother? All the boys she sees now are laughing, drenched in red.
Emmett, in dreams, sings I am gold. He tells how dry it is, the prairie.

 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Little Sleep's-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight by Galway Kinnell


Little Sleep's-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight

1

You scream, waking from a nightmare.

When I sleepwalk
into your room, and pick you up,
and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me
hard,
as if clinging could save us. I think
you think
I will never die, I think I exude
to you the permanence of smoke or stars,
even as
my broken arms heal themselves around you.

2

I have heard you tell
the sun, don't go down, I have stood by
as you told the flower, don't grow old,
don't die. Little Maud,

I would blow the flame out of your silver cup,
I would suck the rot from your fingernail,
I would brush your sprouting hair of the dying light,
I would scrape the rust off your ivory bones,
I would help death escape through the little ribs of your body,
I would alchemize the ashes of your cradle back into wood,
I would let nothing of you go, ever,

until washerwomen
feel the clothes fall asleep in their hands,
and hens scratch their spell across hatchet blades,
and rats walk away from the cultures of the plague,
and iron twists weapons toward the true north,
and grease refuses to slide in the machinery of progress,
and men feel as free on earth as fleas on the bodies of men,
and lovers no longer whisper to the presence beside them in the
dark, O corpse-to-be ...

And yet perhaps this is the reason you cry,
this the nightmare you wake screaming from:
being forever
in the pre-trembling of a house that falls.

3

In a restaurant once, everyone
quietly eating, you clambered up
on my lap: to all
the mouthfuls rising toward
all the mouths, at the top of your voice
you cried
your one word, caca! caca! caca!
and each spoonful
stopped, a moment, in midair, in its withering
steam.

Yes,
you cling because
I, like you, only sooner
than you, will go down
the path of vanished alphabets,
the roadlessness
to the other side of the darkness,

your arms
like the shoes left behind,
like the adjectives in the halting speech
of old men,
which once could call up the lost nouns.

4

And you yourself,
some impossible Tuesday
in the year Two Thousand and Nine, will walk out
among the black stones
of the field, in the rain,

and the stones saying
over their one word, ci-gît, ci-gît, ci-gît,

and the raindrops
hitting you on the fontanel
over and over, and you standing there
unable to let them in.

5

If one day it happens
you find yourself with someone you love
in a café at one end
of the Pont Mirabeau, at the zinc bar
where white wine stands in upward opening glasses,

and if you commit then, as we did, the error
of thinking,
one day all this will only be memory,

learn,
as you stand
at this end of the bridge which arcs,
from love, you think, into enduring love,
learn to reach deeper
into the sorrows
to come – to touch
the almost imaginary bones
under the face, to hear under the laughter
the wind crying across the black stones. Kiss
the mouth
which tells you, here,
here is the world. This mouth. This laughter. These temple bones.

The still undanced cadence of vanishing.

6

In the light the moon
sends back, I can see in your eyes

the hand that waved once
in my father's eyes, a tiny kite
wobbling far up in the twilight of his last look:

and the angel
of all mortal things lets go the string.

7

Back you go, into your crib.

The last blackbird lights up his gold wings: farewell.
Your eyes close inside your head,
in sleep. Already
in your dreams the hours begin to sing.

Little sleep's-head sprouting hair in the moonlight,
when I come back
we will go out together,
we will walk out together among
the ten thousand things,
each scratched too late with such knowledge, the wages
of dying is love.

 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Skunk Hour by Robert Lowell


Skunk Hour

    For Elizabeth Bishop

Nautilus Island’s hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son’s a bishop. Her farmer
is first selectman in our village;
she’s in her dotage.

Thirsting for
the hierarchic privacy
of Queen Victoria’s century,
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.

The season’s ill—
we’ve lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue. His nine-knot yawl
was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.

And now our fairy
decorator brightens his shop for fall;
his fishnet’s filled with orange cork,
orange, his cobbler’s bench and awl;
there is no money in his work,
he’d rather marry.

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull;
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
My mind’s not right.

A car radio bleats,
“Love, O careless Love. . . .” I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat. . . .
I myself am hell;
nobody’s here—

only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air—
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.

 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Night Feeding by Muriel Rukeyser


Night Feeding

Deeper than sleep but not so deep as death
I lay there dreaming and my magic head
remembered and forgot. On first cry I
remembered and forgot and did believe.
I knew love and I knew evil:
woke to the burning song and the tree burning blind,
despair of our days and the calm milk-giver who
knows sleep, knows growth, the sex of fire and grass,
renewal of all waters and the time of the stars
and the black snake with gold bones.

Black sleeps, gold burns; on second cry I woke
fully and gave to feed and fed on feeding.
Gold seed, green pain, my wizards in the earth
walked through the house, black in the morning dark.
Shadows grew in my veins, my bright belief,
my head of dreams deeper than night and sleep.
Voices of all black animals crying to drink,
cries of all birth arise, simple as we,
found in the leaves, in clouds and dark, in dream,
deep as this hour, ready again to sleep.

October by Frederick Seidel


October

It is time to lose your life,
Even if it isn't over.
It is time to say goodbye and try to die.
It is October.

The mellow cello
Allee of trees is almost lost in sweetness and mist
When you take off your watch at sunrise
To lose your life.

You catch the plane.
You land again.
You arrive in the place.
You speak the language.

You will live in a new house,
Even if it is old.
You will live with a new wife,
Even if she is too young.

Your slender new husband will love you.
He will walk the dog in the cold.
He will cook a meal on the stove.
He will bring you your medication in bed.

Dawn at the city flower market downtown.
The vendors have just opened.
The flowers are so fresh.
The restaurants are there to decorate their tables.

Your husband rollerblades past, whizzing,
Making a whirring sound, winged like an angel—
But stops and spins around and skates back
To buy some cut flowers in the early morning frost.

I am buying them for you.
I am buying them for your blond hair at dawn.
I am buying them for your beautiful breasts.
I am buying them for your beautiful heart.
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