Saturday, February 28, 2015

You Can Have It by Philip Levine

You Can Have It

My brother comes home from work
and climbs the stairs to our room.
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop   
one by one. You can have it, he says.

The moonlight streams in the window   
and his unshaven face is whitened
like the face of the moon. He will sleep
long after noon and waken to find me gone.

Thirty years will pass before I remember   
that moment when suddenly I knew each man   
has one brother who dies when he sleeps   
and sleeps when he rises to face this life,

and that together they are only one man   
sharing a heart that always labors, hands   
yellowed and cracked, a mouth that gasps   
for breath and asks, Am I gonna make it?

All night at the ice plant he had fed
the chute its silvery blocks, and then I   
stacked cases of orange soda for the children   
of Kentucky, one gray boxcar at a time

with always two more waiting. We were twenty   
for such a short time and always in
the wrong clothes, crusted with dirt
and sweat. I think now we were never twenty.

In 1948 in the city of Detroit, founded
by de la Mothe Cadillac for the distant purposes   
of Henry Ford, no one wakened or died,   
no one walked the streets or stoked a furnace,

for there was no such year, and now
that year has fallen off all the old newspapers,
calendars, doctors’ appointments, bonds,   
wedding certificates, drivers licenses.

The city slept. The snow turned to ice.   
The ice to standing pools or rivers
racing in the gutters. Then bright grass rose   
between the thousands of cracked squares,

and that grass died. I give you back 1948.   
I give you all the years from then
to the coming one. Give me back the moon   
with its frail light falling across a face.

Give me back my young brother, hard
and furious, with wide shoulders and a curse   
for God and burning eyes that look upon   
all creation and say, You can have it.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Widow’s Lament in Springtime by William Carlos Williams

The Widow’s Lament in Springtime

Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before, but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
Thirty-five years
I lived with my husband.
The plum tree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red,
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they,
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turn away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bluebird by Charles Bukowski


Bluebird

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I'm not going
to let anybody see
you.
there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he's
in there.

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up? 
you want to screw up the
works? 
you want to blow my book sales in
Europe? 
there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody's asleep.
I say, I know that you're there,
so don't be
sad.
then I put him back,
but he's singing a little
in there, I haven't quite let him
die
and we sleep together like
that
with our
secret pact
and it's nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don't
weep, do
you? 




Monday, February 23, 2015

Separation by W. S. Merwin

Separation

Your absence has gone through me   
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.




Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Self-Portrait with Her Hair on Fire by Lucie Brock-Broido


Self-Portrait with Her Hair on Fire

Now, it is as dark as the pathos of pushing a wheel-
Chair through the museum of a great metropolis.
I cannot tell you this, not now, not ever, even
In the letter I have written that is so epic
That if you were to open it, the pages would sail out
In the wind like confection moths being born
In the thousands out of their sacks, blowing
Away, page by page, in a wind the color of her hair
Across a medieval pillow endlessly scorched,
The singe of something living tinged with fire.
I will go on loving as I love the backs
Of things and the invisible,
As I love the hideous or an attention
So attentive it is next to worshipping.



Monday, February 16, 2015

Gospel by Philip Levine

Gospel

The new grass rising in the hills,
the cows loitering in the morning chill,
a dozen or more old browns hidden
in the shadows of the cottonwoods
beside the streambed. I go higher
to where the road gives up and there’s
only a faint path strewn with lupine
between the mountain oaks. I don’t
ask myself what I’m looking for.
I didn’t come for answers
to a place like this, I came to walk
on the earth, still cold, still silent.
Still ungiving, I’ve said to myself,
although it greets me with last year’s
dead thistles and this year’s 
hard spines, early blooming
wild onions, the curling remains
of spider’s cloth. What did I bring 
to the dance? In my back pocket
a crushed letter from a woman
I’ve never met bearing bad news
I can do nothing about. So I wander
these woods half sightless while
a west wind picks up in the trees
clustered above. The pines make
a music like no other, rising and 
falling like a distant surf at night
that calms the darkness before 
first light. “Soughing” we call it, from
Old English, no less. How weightless
words are when nothing will do.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ode to the Unbroken World, Which Is Coming by Thomas Lux


Ode to the Unbroken World, Which Is Coming

It must be coming, mustn’t it? Churches
and saloons are filled with decent humans.
A mother wants to feed her daughter,
fathers to buy their children things that break.
People laugh, all over the world, people laugh.
We were born to laugh, and we know how to be sad;
we dislike injustice and cancer,
and are not unaware of our terrible errors.
A man wants to love his wife.
His wife wants him to carry something.
We’re capable of empathy, and intense moments of joy.
Sure, some of us are venal, but not most.
There’s always a punchbowl, somewhere,
in which floats a…
Life’s a bullet, that fast, and the sweeter for it.
It’s the same everywhere: Slovenia, India,
Pakistan, Suriname—people like to pray,
or they don’t,
or they like to fill a blue plastic pool
in the back yard with a hose
and watch their children splash. 
Or sit in cafes, or at table with family.
And if a long train of cattle cars passes
along West Ridge
it’s only the cattle from East Ridge going to the abattoir.
The unbroken world is coming,
(it must be coming!), I heard a choir,
there were clouds, there was dust,
I heard it in the streets, I heard it
announced by loudhailers
mounted on trucks.




Thursday, February 12, 2015

Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O'Hara


Meditations in an Emergency

          Am I to become profligate as if I were a blonde? Or religious as if I were French?

          Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous (and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable list!), but one of these days there’ll be nothing left with which to venture forth.

          Why should I share you? Why don’t you get rid of someone else for a change?

          I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love.

          Even trees understand me! Good heavens, I lie under them, too, don’t I? I’m just like a pile of leaves.

          However, I have never clogged myself with the praises of pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life. It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and even they continue to pass. Do they know what they’re missing? Uh huh.

          My eyes are vague blue, like the sky, and change all the time; they are indiscriminate but fleeting, entirely specific and disloyal, so that no one trusts me. I am always looking away. Or again at something after it has given me up. It makes me restless and that makes me unhappy, but I cannot keep them still. If only I had grey, green, black, brown, yellow eyes; I would stay at home and do something. It’s not that I am curious. On the contrary, I am bored but it’s my duty to be attentive, I am needed by things as the sky must be above the earth. And lately, so great has their anxiety become, I can spare myself little sleep.

          Now there is only one man I love to kiss when he is unshaven. Heterosexuality! you are inexorably approaching. (How discourage her?)

          St. Serapion, I wrap myself in the robes of your whiteness which is like midnight in Dostoevsky. How am I to become a legend, my dear? I’ve tried love, but that hides you in the bosom of another and I am always springing forth from it like the lotus—the ecstasy of always bursting forth! (but one must not be distracted by it!) or like a hyacinth, “to keep the filth of life away,” yes, there, even in the heart, where the filth is pumped in and courses and slanders and pollutes and determines. I will my will, though I may become famous for a mysterious vacancy in that department, that greenhouse.

          Destroy yourself, if you don’t know!

          It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I admire you, beloved, for the trap you’ve set. It's like a final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.

          “Fanny Brown is run away—scampered off with a Cornet of Horse; I do love that little Minx, & hope She may be happy, tho’ She has vexed me by this Exploit a little too. —Poor silly Cecchina! or F:B: as we used to call her. —I wish She had a good Whipping and 10,000 pounds.” —Mrs. Thrale.

       I’ve got to get out of here. I choose a piece of shawl and my dirtiest suntans. I’ll be back, I'll re-emerge, defeated, from the valley; you don’t want me to go where you go, so I go where you don’t want me to. It’s only afternoon, there’s a lot ahead. There won’t be any mail downstairs. Turning, I spit in the lock and the knob turns.



Harlem Night Song by Langston Hughes


Harlem Night Song

Come,
Let us roam the night together
Singing.

I love you.

Across
The Harlem roof-tops
Moon is shining
Night sky is blue.
Stars are great drops
Of golden dew.
In the cabaret
The jazz-band's playing.

I love you.

Come,
Let us roam the night together
Singing.


Monday, February 9, 2015

The Fist by Mary Oliver

The Fist

There are days
when the sun goes down
like a fist,
though of course

if you see anything 
in the heavens
in this way
you had better get

your eyes checked
or, better still,
your diminished spirit.
The heavens

have no fist,
or would they have been
shaking it
for a thousand years now,

and even longer than that,
at the dull, brutish
ways of mankind --

heaven's own 
creation?
Instead: such patience!
Such willingness 
to let us continue!
To hear,
little by little,
the voices --

only, so far, in 
pockets of the world --
suggesting 
the possibilities

of peace?
Keep looking.
Behold, how the fist opens
with invitation.



Friday, February 6, 2015

To Brooklyn Bridge by Hart Crane


To Brooklyn Bridge

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty-- 

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
--Till elevators drop us from our day . . . 

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen; 

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,--
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee! 

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan. 

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still. 

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews, Thy guerdon . . .
Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show. 

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,-- 

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path--condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.  

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City’s fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . . 

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Pretending to Drown by Saeed Jones


Pretending to Drown

The only regret is that I waited
longer than a breath
to scatter the sun’s reflection
with my body.

New stars burst upon the water
when you pulled me in.

On the shore, our clothes
begged us to be good boys again.

Every stick our feet touched
a snapping turtle, every shadow
a water moccasin.

Excuses to swim closer to one another.

I sank into the depths to see you
as the lake saw you: cut in half
by the surface, taut legs kicking,
the rest of you sky.

Suddenly still, a clear view
of what you knew I wanted
to see.

When I resurfaced, slick grin,
knowing glance; you pushed me
back under.

I pretended to drown,
then swallowed you whole.


Waking at Night by Michael Ryan


Waking at Night

I won't die in my sleep.
My sorry entrance into absence,
that featureless space, will be made
as I awake, fumbling deep for breath
as for a key suddenly misplaced.
That featureless space:
like an endless level field of ice,
where's the eyes whiten,
where invisibles fidget like gnats . . .

I suspect hell is white,
the soul wandering constantly,
calling out for company, while the wind
blows through it as if it were nothing.
And what does the body know 
now, sleeping through its nights alive?
It knows it will be left behind.

It knows it will be left behind
the way a lover knows the end is coming.
Think of those you've loved and touched
and never seen again. Sometimes I wake
at night inside this thought, and stumble
through the dark to call someone
and say, I miss you, I feel your loss.

I won't die in my sleep.




Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What Did I Love? by Ellen Bass


What Did I Love?

What did I love about killing the chickens? Let me start
with the drive to the farm as darkness
was sinking back into the earth.
The road damp and shining like the snail’s silver
ribbon and the orchard
with its bony branches. I loved the yellow rubber
aprons and the way Janet knotted my broken strap.
And the stainless-steel altars
we bleached, Brian sharpening
the knives, testing the edge on his thumbnail. All eighty-eight Cornish
hens huddled in their crates. Wrapping my palms around
their white wings, lowering them into the tapered urn.
Some seemed unwitting as the world narrowed;
some cackled and fluttered; some struggled.
I gathered each one, tucked her bright feet,
drew her head through the kill cone’s sharp collar,
her keratin beak and the rumpled red vascular comb
that once kept her cool as she pecked in her mansion of grass.
I didn’t look into those stone eyes. I didn’t ask forgiveness.
I slid the blade between the feathers
and made quick crescent cuts, severing
the arteries just under the jaw. Blood like liquor
pouring out of the bottle. When I see the nub of heart later,
it’s hard to believe such a small star could flare
like that. I lifted each body, bathing it in heated water
until the scaly membrane of the shanks
sloughed off under my thumb.
And after they were tossed in the large plucking drum
I loved the newly naked birds. Sundering
the heads and feet neatly at the joints, a poor
man’s riches for golden stock. Slitting a fissure
reaching into the chamber,
freeing the organs, the spill of intestines, blue-tinged gizzard,
the small purses of lungs, the royal hearts,
easing the floppy liver, carefully, from the green gall bladder,
its bitter bile. And the fascia unfurling
like a transparent fan. When I tug the esophagus
down through the neck, I love the suck and release
as it lets go. Then slicing off the anus with its gray pearl
of shit. Over and over, my hands explore
each cave, learning to see with my fingertips. Like a traveller
in a foreign country, entering church after church.
In every one the same figures of the Madonna, Christ on the Cross,
which I’d always thought was gore
until Marie said to her it was tender,
the most tender image, every saint and political prisoner,
every jailed poet and burning monk.
But though I have all the time in the world
to think thoughts like this, I don’t.
I’m empty as I rinse each carcass,
and this is what I love most.
It’s like when the refrigerator turns off and you hear
the silence. As the sun rose higher
we shed our sweatshirts and moved the coolers into the shade,
but, other than that, no time passed.
I didn’t get hungry. I didn’t want to stop.
I was breathing from some bright reserve.
We twisted each pullet into plastic, iced and loaded them in the cars.
I loved the truth. Even in just this one thing:
looking straight at the terrible,
one-sided accord we make with the living of this world.
At the end, we scoured the tables, hosed the dried blood,
the stain blossoming through the water.



Monday, February 2, 2015

Author’s Prayer by Ilya Kaminsky

Author’s Prayer

If I speak for the dead, I must leave
this animal of my body,

I must write the same poem over and over,
for an empty page is the white flag of their surrender.

If I speak for them, I must walk on the edge
of myself, I must live as a blind man

who runs through rooms without
touching the furniture.

Yes, I live. I can cross the streets asking “What year is it?”
I can dance in my sleep and laugh

in front of the mirror.
Even sleep is a prayer, Lord,

I will praise your madness, and
in a language not mine, speak

of music that wakes us, music
in which we move. For whatever I say

is a kind of petition, and the darkest
days must I praise.