Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fists I Thought Were Made To Hold the Reins by Brooks Haxton


Fists I Thought Were Made To Hold the Reins

He delighteth not in the strength of the horse...He maketh peace...  Psalm 147

Catfish, lacking scales, are beautiful
in their repulsive way, but they will give you
an infected wound if you're not careful.
The filets I rubbed with cayenne, chili, salt,
and ginger, skillet hot and dry, then drowned
with lemon. Even the kids, who don't eat fish,
left none. My wife and I stopped brooding,
and my right hand opened with me staring
into the empty palm, long having, if I ever
knew, forgotten when and how the reins
slipped free. I love equestrians,
but I let go the reins, unlike my heroes,
lacking their authority, and wishing now
to lack my lack as well. An unimaginable horse
is rippling at a gallop far away, unshod,
with hoofbeats as impermanent as stars. 


Letter by Franz Wright


Letter

January 1998

I am not acquainted with anyone
there, if they spoke to me
I would not know what to do.
But so far nobody has, I know
I certainly wouldn't.
I don't participate, I'm not allowed;
I just listen, and every morning
have a moment of such happiness, I breathe
and breathe until the terror returns. About the time
when they are supposed to greet one another
two people actually look into each other's eyes
and hold hands a moment, but
the church is so big and the few who are there
are seated far apart. So this presents no real problem.
I keep my eyes fixed on the great naked corpse, the vertical
      corpse
who is said to be love
and who spoke the world
into being, before coming here
to be tortured and executed by it.
I don't know what I am doing there. I do
notice the more I lose touch
with what I previously saw as my life
the more real my spot in the dark winter pew becomes—

it is infinite. What we experience
as space, the sky
that is, the sun, the stars
is intimate and rather small by comparison.
When I think of my past
can only be described as grace.
We are created by being destroyed.


Monday, April 28, 2014

I Would Like to Describe by Zbigniew Herbert


I Would Like to Describe

I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water

to put it another way
I would give all metaphors
in return for one word
drawn out of my breast like a rib
for one word
contained within the boundaries
of my skin

but apparently this is not possible

and just to say—I love
I run around like mad
picking up handfuls of birds
and my tenderness
which after all is not made of water
asks the water for a face
and anger
different from fire
borrows from it
a loquacious tongue

so is blurred
so is blurred
in me
what white-haired gentlemen
separated once and for all
and said
this is the subject
and this is the object

we fall asleep
with one hand under our head
and with the other in a mound of planets

our feet abandon us
and taste the earth
with their tiny roots
which next morning
we tear out painfully


(Translated from the Polish by Peter Dale Scott and Czeslaw Milosz)



Sunday, April 27, 2014

Prayer Rug by Agha Shahid Ali


Prayer Rug

Those intervals
between the day’s
five calls to prayer

the women of the house
pulling thick threads
through vegetables

rosaries of ginger
of rustling peppers
in autumn drying for winter

in those intervals this rug
part of Grandma’s dowry
folded

so the Devil’s shadow
would not desecrate
Mecca scarlet-woven

with minarets of gold
but then the sunset call
to prayer

the servants
their straw mats unrolled
praying or in the garden

in summer on grass
the children wanting
the prayers to end

the women’s foreheads
touching the Abraham’s
silk stone of sacrifice

black stone descended
from Heaven
the pilgrims in white circling it

this year my grandmother
also a pilgrim
in Mecca she weeps

as the stone is unveiled 
she weeps holding on
to the pillars


Friday, April 25, 2014

Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy by Terrance Hayes


Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy

Ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and children of the state,
I am here because I could never get the hang of Time.
This hour, for example, would be like all the others
were it not for the rain falling through the roof.
I'd better not be too explicit. My night is careless
with itself, troublesome as a woman wearing no bra
in winter. I believe everything is a metaphor for sex.
Lovemaking mimics the act of departure, moonlight
drips from the leaves. You can spend your whole life
doing no more than preparing for life and thinking.
"Is this all there is?" Thus, I am here where poets come
to drink a dark strong poison with tiny shards of ice,
something to loosen my primate tongue and its syllables
of debris. I know all words come from preexisting words
and divide until our pronouncements develop selves.
The small dog barking at the darkness has something to say
about the way we live. I'd rather have what my daddy calls
"skrimp." He says "discrete" and means the street
just out of sight. Not what you see, but what you perceive:
that's poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement
of derangements; I'll eat you to live: that's poetry.
I wish I glowed like a brown-skinned pregnant woman.
I wish I could weep the way my teacher did as he read us
Molly Bloom's soliloquy of yes. When I kiss my wife,
sometimes I taste her caution. But let's not talk about that.
Maybe Art's only purpose is to preserve the Self.
Sometimes I play a game in which my primitive craft fires
upon an alien ship whose intention is the destruction
of the earth. Other times I fall in love with a word
like somberness. Or moonlight juicing naked branches.
All species have a notion of emptiness, and yet
the flowers don't quit opening. I am carrying the whimper
you can hear when the mouth is collapsed, the wisdom
of monkeys. Ask a glass of water why it pities
the rain. Ask the lunatic yard dog why it tolerates the leash.
Brothers and sisters, when you spend your nights
out on a limb, there's a chance you'll fall in your sleep. 



In the Plaza by Louise Glück


In the Plaza

For two weeks he’s been watching the same girl,
someone he sees in the plaza. In her twenties maybe,
drinking coffee in the afternoon, the little dark head
bent over a magazine.
He watches from across the square, pretending
to be buying something, cigarettes, maybe a bouquet of flowers.

Because she doesn’t know it exists,
her power is very great now, fused to the needs of his imagination.
He is her prisoner. She says the words he gives her
in a voice he imagines, low-pitched and soft,
a voice from the south as the dark hair must be from the south.

Soon she will recognize him, then begin to expect him.
And perhaps then every day her hair will be freshly washed,
she will gaze outward across the plaza before looking down.
And after that they will become lovers.

But he hopes this will not happen immediately
since whatever power she exerts now over his body, over his emotions,
she will have no power once she commits herself—

she will withdraw into that private world of feeling
women enter when they love. And living there, she will become
like a person who casts no shadow, who is not present in the world;
in that sense, so little use to him
it hardly matters whether she lives or dies.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On The Death of a Cat by Franz Wright

On The Death of a Cat

In life, death
was nothing
to you: I am

willing to wager
my soul that it
simply never occurred

to your nightmareless
mind, while sleep
was everything

(see it raised
to an infinite
power and perfection)—no death

in you then, so now
how even less. Dear stealth
of innocence

licked polished
to an evil
lustre, little

milk fang, whiskered
night
friend—

go.


 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore by Elizabeth Bishop


Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore

From Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, on this fine morning,
please come flying.
In a cloud of fiery pale chemicals,
please come flying,
to the rapid rolling of thousands of small blue drums
descending out of the mackerel sky
over the glittering grandstand of harbor-water,
please come flying.
Whistles, pennants and smoke are blowing. The ships
are signaling cordially with multitudes of flags
rising and falling like birds all over the harbor.
Enter: two rivers, gracefully bearing
countless little pellucid jellies
in cut-glass epergnes dragging with silver chains.
The flight is safe; the weather is all arranged.
The waves are running in verses this fine morning.
Please come flying.

Come with the pointed toe of each black shoe
trailing a sapphire highlight,
with a black capeful of butterfly wings and bon-mots,
with heaven knows how many angels all riding
on the broad black brim of your hat,
please come flying.

Bearing a musical inaudible abacus,
a slight censorious frown, and blue ribbons,
please come flying.
Facts and skyscrapers glint in the tide; Manhattan
is all awash with morals this fine morning,
so please come flying.

Mounting the sky with natural heroism,
above the accidents, above the malignant movies,
the taxicabs and injustices at large,
while horns are resounding in your beautiful ears
that simultaneously listen to
a soft uninvented music, fit for the musk deer,
please come flying.

For whom the grim museums will behave
like courteous male bower-birds,
for whom the agreeable lions lie in wait
on the steps of the Public Library,
eager to rise and follow through the doors
up into the reading rooms,
please come flying.
We can sit down and weep; we can go shopping,
or play at a game of constantly being wrong
with a priceless set of vocabularies,
or we can bravely deplore, but please
please come flying.

With dynasties of negative constructions
darkening and dying around you,
with grammar that suddenly turns and shines
like flocks of sandpipers flying,
please come flying.

Come like a light in the white mackerel sky,
come like a daytime comet
with a long unnebulous train of words,
from Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, on this fine morning,
please come flying.





Sunday, April 20, 2014

Loneliness by Franz Wright


Loneliness

Say you wake
in the night
abruptly alone
in the midst of addressing
vast stadiums …
Or at an intersection windows shattered your forehead leaning on the horn a crowd materializing a light snow beginning
Like the taste of alcohol to children
No
That with which there is nothing to compare
Say you have no friends, or say you have to go to sleep
To see your friends
There
It's not so bad the stitches itch where they removed your rage is all
Where they removed those thoughts
And no one misses them
After several weeks
everyone learns
how to tie his own shoe
You get a little doll that looks like you


Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats


The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?




Company by Les Murray


Company

Where two or three
are gathered together, that
is about enough.


Friday, April 18, 2014

A Week Later by Sharon Olds


A Week Later

A week later, I said to a friend: I don't
think I could ever write about it.
Maybe in a year I could write something.
There is something in me maybe someday
to be written; now it is folded, and folded,
and folded, like a note in school. And in my dream
someone was playing jacks, and in the air there was a
huge, thrown, tilted jack
on fire. And when I woke up, I found myself
counting the days since I had last seen
my husband-only two years, and some weeks,
and hours. We had signed the papers and come down to the
ground floor of the Chrysler Building,
the intact beauty of its lobby around us
like a king's tomb, on the ceiling the little
painted plane, in the mural, flying. And it
entered my strictured heart, this morning,
slightly, shyly as if warily,
untamed, a greater sense of the sweetness
and plenty of his ongoing life,
unknown to me, unseen by me,
unheard, untouched-but known, seen,
heard, touched. And it came to me,
for moments at a time, moment after moment,
to be glad for him that he is with the one
he feels was meant for him. And I thought of my
mother, minutes from her death, eighty-five
years from her birth, the almost warbler
bones of her shoulder under my hand, the
eggshell skull, as she lay in some peace
in the clean sheets, and I could tell her the best
of my poor, partial love, I could sing her
out with it, I saw the luck
and luxury of that hour.



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Watching Dogwood Blossoms Fall in a Parking Lot Off Route 46 by August Kleinzahler


Watching Dogwood Blossoms Fall in a Parking Lot Off Route 46

Dogwood blossoms drift down at evening
as semis pound past Phoenix Seafood

and the Savarin plant, west to the Turnpike,
Paterson or hills beyond.

The adulterated, pearly light and bleak perfume
of benzene and exhaust

make this solitary tree and the last of its bloom
as stirring just now after another day

at the hospital with Mother and the ashen old ladies
lost to TV reruns flickering overhead

as that shower of peach blossoms Tu Fu watched
fall on the river bank

from the shadows of the Jade Pavilion,
while ghosts and the music

of yellow orioles found out the seam of him
and slowly cut along it.



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Long and Sluggish Lines by Wallace Stevens

Long and Sluggish Lines

It makes so little difference, at so much more
Than seventy, where one looks, one has been there before.

Wood-smoke rises through trees, is caught in an upper flow
Of air and whirled away. But it has been often so.

The trees have a look as if they bore sad names
And kept saying over and over one same, same thing,

In a kind of uproar, because an opposite, a contradiction,
Has enraged them and made them want to talk it down.

What opposite? Could it be that yellow patch, the side
Of a house, that makes one think the house is laughing;

Or these—escent—issant pre-personae: first fly,
A comic infanta among the tragic drapings,

Babyishness of forsythia, a snatch of belief,
The spook and makings of the nude magnolia?

 … Wanderer, this is the pre-history of February.
The life of the poem in the mind has not yet begun.

You were not born yet when the trees were crystal
Nor are you now, in this wakefulness inside a sleep.
   


Monday, April 14, 2014

Love Song: I and Thou by Alan Dugan

Love Song: I and Thou

Nothing is plumb, level, or square:
     the studs are bowed, the joists
are shaky by nature, no piece fits
     any other piece without a gap
or pinch, and bent nails
     dance all over the surfacing
like maggots. By Christ
     I am no carpenter. I built
the roof for myself, the walls
     for myself, the floors
for myself, and got
     hung up in it myself. I
danced with a purple thumb
     at this house-warming, drunk
with my prime whiskey: rage.
     Oh I spat rage’s nails
into the frame-up of my work:
     it held. It settled plumb,
level, solid, square and true
     for that great moment. Then
it screamed and went on through,
     skewing as wrong the other way.
God damned it. This is hell,
     but I planned it. I sawed it,
I nailed it, and I
     will live in it until it kills me.
I can nail my left palm
     to the left-hand crosspiece but
I can’t do everything myself.
     I need a hand to nail the right,
a help, a love, a you, a wife.




Sunday, April 13, 2014

Words for Hart Crane by Robert Lowell


Words for Hart Crane

“When the Pulitzers showered on some dope
or screw who flushed our dry mouths out with soap,
few people would consider why I took
to stalking sailors, and scattered Uncle Sam’s
phoney gold-plated laurels to the birds.
Because I knew my Whitman like a book,
stranger in America, tell my country: I,
Catullus redivivus, once the rage
of the Village and Paris, used to play my role
of homosexual, wolfing the stray lambs
who hungered by the Place de la Concorde.
My profit was a pocket with a hole.
Who asks for me, the Shelley of my age,
must lay his heart out for my bed and board.”



Friday, April 11, 2014

Priest by Zbigniew Herbert


PRIEST

                        to the worshippers of deceased religions

A priest whose deity
descended to earth

In a half-ruined temple
revealed its human face

I impotent priest
who lifting up my hands
know that from this neither rain nor locust
neither harvest nor thunderstorm

—I am repeating a dried-out verse
with the same incantation
of rapture

A neck growing to martyrdom
is struck by the flat of a jeering hand

My holy dance before the altar
is seen only by a shadow
with the gestures of a street-urchin

—And nonetheless
I raise up eyes and hands
I raise up song

And I know that the sacrificial smoke
drifting into a cold sky
braids a pigtail for a deity
without a head


Thursday, April 10, 2014

When Death Comes by Mary Oliver


When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Clerk’s Tale by Spencer Reece


The Clerk’s Tale

I am thirty-three and working in an expensive clothier,
selling suits to men I call "Sir."
These men are muscled, groomed and cropped—
with wives and families that grow exponentially.
Mostly I talk of rep ties and bow ties,
of full-Windsor knots and half-Windsor knots,
of tattersall, French cuff, and English spread collars,
of foulards, neats, and internationals,
of pincord, houndstooth, nailhead, and sharkskin.
I often wear a blue pin-striped suit.
My hair recedes and is going gray at the temples.
On my cheeks there are a few pimples.
For my terrible eyesight, horn-rimmed spectacles.
One of my fellow-workers is an old homosexual
who works hard and wears bracelets with jewels.
No one can rival his commission checks.
On his break he smokes a Benson & Hedges cigarette,
puffing expectantly as a Hollywood starlet.
He has carefully applied a layer of Clinique bronzer
to enhance the tan on his face and neck.
His hair is gone except for a few strands
which are combed across his scalp.
He examines his manicured lacquered nails.
I admire his studied attention to details:
his tie stuck to his shirt with masking tape,
his teeth capped, his breath mint in place.
The old homosexual and I laugh in the back
over a coarse joke involving an octopus.
Our banter is staccato, staged and close
like those "Spanish Dances" by Granados.
I sometimes feel we are in a musical—
gossiping backstage between our numbers.
He drags deeply on his cigarette.
Most of his life is over.
Often he refers to himself as "an old faggot."
He does this bemusedly, yet timidly.
I know why he does this.
He does this because his acceptance is finally complete—
and complete acceptance is always
bittersweet. Our hours are long. Our backs bent.
We are more gracious than English royalty.
We dart amongst the aisles tall as hedgerows.
Watch us face into the merchandise.
How we set up and take apart mannequins
as if we were performing autopsies.
A naked body, without pretense, is of no use.
It grows late.
I hear the front metal gate close down.
We begin folding the ties correctly according to color.
The shirts--Oxfords, broadcloths, pinpoints—
must be sized, stacked, or rehashed.
The old homosexual removes his right shoe,
allowing his gigantic bunion to swell.
There is the sound of cash being counted—
coins clinking, bills swishing, numbers whispered—
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. . . 
We are changed when the transactions are done—
older, dirtier, dwarfed.
A few late customers gawk in at us.
We say nothing. Our silence will not be breached.
The lights go off, one by one—
the dressing room lights, the mirror lights.
Then it is very late. How late? Eleven?
We move to the gate. It goes up. 
The gate's grating checkers our cheeks.
This is the Mall of America.
The light is bright and artificial,
yet not dissimilar to that found in a Gothic cathedral.
You must travel down the long hallways to the exits
before you encounter natural light.
One final formality: the manager checks our bags.
The old homosexual reaches into his over-the-shoulder leather bag—
the one he bought on his European travels
with his companion of many years.
He finds a stick of lip balm and applies it to his lips
liberally, as if shellacking them.
Then he inserts one last breath mint
and offers one to me. The gesture is fraternal
and occurs between us many times.
At last, we bid each other good night.
I watch him fade into the many-tiered parking lot,
where the thousands of cars have come
and are now gone. This is how our day ends.
This is how our day always ends.
Sometimes snow falls like rice.
See us take to our dimly lit exits,
disappearing into the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul;
Minneapolis is sleek and St. Paul,
named after the man who had to be shown,
is smaller, older, and somewhat withdrawn.
Behind us, the moon pauses over the vast egg-like dome of the mall.
See us loosening our ties among you.
We are alone.
There is no longer any need to express ourselves.




Sunday, April 6, 2014

And One For My Dame by Anne Sexton


And One For My Dame

A born salesman,
my father made all his dough
by selling wool to Fieldcrest, Woolrich and Faribo.

A born talker,
he could sell one hundred wet-down bales
of that white stuff. He could clock the miles and the sales

and make it pay.
At home each sentence he would utter
had first pleased the buyer who'd paid him off in butter.

Each word
had been tried over and over, at any rate,
on the man who was sold by the man who filled my plate.

My father hovered
over the Yorkshire pudding and the beef:
a peddler, a hawker, a merchant and an Indian chief.

Roosevelt! Willkie! and war!
How suddenly gauche I was
with my old-maid heart and my funny teenage applause.

Each night at home
my father was in love with maps
while the radio fought its battles with Nazis and Japs.

Except when he hid
in his bedroom on a three-day drunk,
he typed out complex itineraries, packed his trunk,

his matched luggage
and pocketed a confirmed reservation,
his heart already pushing over the red routes of the nation.

I sit at my desk
each night with no place to go,
opening thee wrinkled maps of Milwaukee and Buffalo,

the whole U.S.,
its cemeteries, its arbitrary time zones,
through routes like small veins, capitals like small stones.

He died on the road,
his heart pushed from neck to back,
his white hanky signaling from the window of the Cadillac.

My husband,
as blue-eyed as a picture book, sells wool:
boxes of card waste, laps and rovings he can pull

to the thread
and say Leicester, Rambouillet, Merino,
a half-blood, it's greasy and thick, yellow as old snow.

And when you drive off, my darling,
Yes, sir! Yes, sir! It's one for my dame,
your sample cases branded with my father's name,

your itinerary open,
its tolls ticking and greedy,
its highways built up like new loves, raw and speedy. 



Our Conversation by Franz Wright


Our Conversation

Pure gaze, you are lightning beyond the last trees
and you are the last trees’
past, branching
green lightning
of terminal brain branches
numened densely with summer’s
hunter color, as night comes on,
the ocean they conceal
gone berserk, wind still rising.
Pure seeing, dual vortex doors
to the blue fire where
sex is burned away, and all
is as it was and I am being offered
in your eyes, as in cupped hands,
the water of to never thirst again.
Again I turn away,
and the future comes, all at once
towering around me
on every side, and I am lost.
Pure looking, past pain
(this is promised):
we must have wed on poverty’s most hair-raising day
delighting, flashing risk, risk
unfailingly lighting the way,
anything possible
in that dissolving of seam
between minds,
no more golden time—
each step I took
the right step, words
came to me finally and finding the place
you had set for them,
once again
wrote themselves down.
Till true word’s anvil ring, and
solid tap of winged blind cane come,
I wish you
all the aloneness you hunger for.
That big kitchen table where you sit laughing
with friends, I see it happening.
And I wish that I could not be
so much with you
when I’m suddenly not; that
inwardly you might switch
time, to sleep
and winter while you went about
your life, until you woke up
well,
our conversation resumed.
Ceaseless blue lightning, this
love passing through me:
I know somehow it will go on
reaching you, reaching you
instantly
when I’m not in the way;
when it is no longer deflected
by all the dark bents, all
I tried to overcome but I could not—
so much light pulled off course
as it passed within reach, so much
lost, lost in me,
but no more.