Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Last Toast by Anna Akhmatova


The Last Toast

I drink to our ruined house,
to the dolor of my life,
to our loneliness together;
and to you I raise my glass,
to lying lips that have betrayed us,
to dead-cold, pitiless eyes,
and to the hard realities:
that the world is brutal and coarse,
that God in fact has not saved us.

(Translated by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward)

 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Sofa in the Forties by Seamus Heaney


A Sofa in the Forties

All of us on the sofa in a line, kneeling
Behind each other, eldest down to youngest.
Elbows going like pistons, for this was a train

And between the jamb-wall and the bedroom door
Our speed and distance were inestimable.
First we shunted, then we whistled, then

Somebody collected the invisible
For tickets and very gravely punched it
As carriage after carriage under us

Moved faster, chooka-chook, the sofa legs
Went giddy and the unreachable ones
Far out on the kitchen floor began to wave.

--

Ghost-train? Death-gondola? The carved, curved ends,
Black leatherette and ornate gauntness of it
Made it seem the sofa had achieved

Flotation. Its castors on tiptoe,
Its braid and fluent backboard gave it airs
Of superannuated pageantry:

When visitors endured it, straight-backed,
When it stood off in its own remoteness,
When the insufficient toys appeared on it

On Christmas mornings, it held out as itself,
Potentially heavenbound, earthbound for sure,
Among things that might add up or let you down.

--

We entered history and ignorance
Under the wireless shelf. Yippee-i-ay,
Sang "The Riders of the Range." HERE IS THE NEWS,

Said the absolute speaker. Between him and us
A great gulf was fixed where pronunciation
Reigned tyrannically. The aerial wire

Swept from a treetop down in through a hole
Bored in the window frame. When it moved in wind,
The sway of language and its furtherings

Swept and swayed in us like nets in water
Or the abstract, lonely curve of distant trains
As we entered history and ignorance.

--

We occupied our seats with all our might,
Fit for the uncomfortableness.
Constancy was its own reward already.

Out in front, on the big upholstered arm,
Somebody craned to the side, driver or
Fireman, wiping his dry brow with the air

Of one who had run the gauntlet. We were
The last thing on his mind, it seemed; we sensed
A tunnel coming up where we'd pour through

Like unlit carriages through fields at night,
Our only job to sit, eyes straight ahead,
And be transported and make engine noise.

 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Love and Money by Alan Dugan


Love and Money

The United States of America is like a convention
of the International Baton Twirlers Association
in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, during a steelworkers’ strike
when I went there once as a bill collector.
The locked-out mill-workers on the street corners
stared at the nearly bare-assed middle-class girls
dressed in nothing but expensive glittery rags
with a dirty gray lust for money and cunt,
but they didn’t touch the girls or the mills
because they weren’t theirs. Right and wrong.
The girls weren’t theirs but the mills were theirs
because they built them, ran them, and made
everything in them except the money: it went away
to where the girls were, so they stood around
without the money and watched the girls.
Therefore I took the money and flew
back to New York to tell the liberal conservatives
that the republican democrats are right:
There is no left-wing politics in America left.
There is the International Baton Twirlers Association.

 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Leave Me Hidden by Franz Wright

Leave Me Hidden

I was having trouble deciding 
which to watch: Night 
of the Living Bloggers, or 
Attack of the Neck-Brace People. 
In the end I just went for a walk.

In the woods I stopped wondering why 
of all trees 
this one: my hand 
pressed to fissures 
and ridges of

bark’s hugely magnified 
fingerprint, forehead 
resting against it 
finally, feeling 
distinctly  

a heartbeat, vast, silently 
booming there deep in 
my hidden leaves, blessed 
motherworld, personal 
underworld, thank you  

thank you.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Made to Breathe by Nicole Sealey


Made to Breathe

              In regard to the gods,
their secrets, who knew human love
             wanted darkness.
             Signs were many. Years facing
the gods led to scorn. Nothing is.
Of this earth, nothing is told about myths
             made to breathe merely
             a hundred times. The stone,
at the very end, measured by time,
watches the world push.

                          *
              Heavy yet upheld, the workman
works his fate, but is powerless to it.
              I fancy melancholy in man, nights           
              without knowing the moment
tragedy begins—his little voice
necessary to night. 

                           *
              If there is a master over life,
he is eager to see the rock rolling.

 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

1926 by Weldon Kees


1926

The porchlight coming on again,
Early November, the dead leaves
Raked in piles, the wicker swing
Creaking. Across the lots
A phonograph is playing Ja-Da.

An orange moon. I see the lives
Of neighbors, mapped and marred
Like all the wars ahead, and R.
Insane, B. with his throat cut,
Fifteen years from now, in Omaha.

I did not know them then.
My airedale scratches at the door.
And I am back from seeing Milton Sills
And Doris Kenyon. Twelve years old.
The porchlight coming on again.

 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

In the great snowfall before the bomb by Lorine Niedecker


In the great snowfall before the bomb

In the great snowfall before the bomb
colored yule tree lights
windows, the only glow for contemplation
along this road 

I worked the print shop
right down among em
the folk from whom all poetry flows
and dreadfully much else. 

I was Blondie
I carried my bundles of hog feeder price lists
down by Larry the Lug,
I’d never get anywhere
because I’d never had suction,
pull, you know, favor, drag,
well-oiled protection. 

I heard their rehashed radio barbs—
more barbarous among hirelings
as higher-ups grow more corrupt.
But what vitality! The women hold jobs—
clean house, cook, raise children, bowl
and go to church. 

What would they say if they knew
I sit for two months on six lines
of poetry?

 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Musica Reservata by John Ashbery


Musica Reservata

Then I reached the field and I thought 
this is not a joke not a book 
but a poem about something—but what? 
Poems are such odd little jiggers. 
This one scratches himself, gets up, then goes off to pee 
in a corner of the room. Later looking quite 
stylish in white jodhpurs against the winter 
snow, and in his reluctance to talk to the utterly 
discursive: “I will belove less than feared ...”

He trotted up, he trotted down, he trotted all around the town. 
Were his relatives jealous of him? 
Still the tock-tock machinery lies half-embedded in sand. 
Someone comes to the window, the wave is a gesture proving nothing, 
and nothing has receded. One gets caught 
in servants like these and must lose the green leaves, 
one by one, as an orchard is pilfered, and then, with luck, 
nuggets do shine, the baited trap slides open. 
We are here with our welfare intact.

Oh but another time, on the resistant edge of night 
one thinks of the pranks things are. 
What led the road that sped underfoot 
to oases of disaster, or at least the unknown? 
We are born, buried for a while, then spring up just as 
everything is closing. Our desires are extremely simple: 
a glass of purple milk, for example, or a dream 
of being in a restaurant. Waiters encourage us, and squirrels. 
There’s no telling how much of us will get used.

My friend devises the cabbage horoscope 
that points daily to sufficiency. He and all those others go home. 
The walls of this room are like Mykonos, and sure enough, 
green plumes toss in the breeze outside 
that underscores the stillness of this place 
we never quite have, or want. Yet it’s wonderful, this 
being; to point to a tree and say don’t I know you from somewhere? 
Sure, now I remember, it was in some landscape somewhere, 
and we can all take off our hats.

At night when it’s too cold 
what does the rodent say to the glass shard? 
What are any of us doing up? Oh but there’s 
a party, but it too was a dream. A group of boys 
was singing my poetry, the music was an anonymous 
fifteenth-century Burgundian anthem, it went something like this:

“This is not what you should hear, 
but we are awake, and days 
with donkey ears and packs negotiate 
the narrow canyon trail that is 
as white and silent as a dream, 
that is, something you dreamed. 
And resources slip away, or are pinned 
under a ladder too heavy to lift. 
Which is why you are here, but the mnemonics 
of the ride are stirring.”

That, at least, is my hope.

Monday, December 12, 2016

On PrEP or on Prayer [“spare us your burial rites”] by Sam Sax


On PrEP or on Prayer [“spare us your burial rites”]

spare us your burial rites

spare us the first rib
the flood, the resurrection

spare us your dairy & meats
your belief in a life after this one

heaven’s a city
we’ve been priced out of

our mothers fled
for more affordable children
for the price of liver

heaven wants nothing
to do with pleasure
on earth

on this
the occasion of my brother’s wedding
i need something awful
done to my body

heaven’s a boy
who wants me to crawl
through his mother’s midnight-window

heaven’s the condom splitting into light

heaven’s not a place
more a wound i make & pass through

when we’re done
he asks how many men

i’ve fucked this month
& not loved

spare me the quilt & blankets

spare me the look
in his eyes when he takes me
careful as a poison inside him

spare me the lecture
on the survival
of my body
& i will spare you
my body

 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Frenzied by Sarah Howe


Frenzied

Maybe holding back 
is just another kind

of need. I am a blue 
plum in the half-light.

You are a tiger who 
eats his own paws.

The day we married
all the trees trembled

as if they were mad – 
be kind to me, you said.

 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden


Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early 
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, 
then with cracked hands that ached 
from labor in the weekday weather made 
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.  

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. 
When the rooms were warm, he’d call, 
and slowly I would rise and dress, 
fearing the chronic angers of that house,  

Speaking indifferently to him, 
who had driven out the cold 
and polished my good shoes as well. 
What did I know, what did I know 
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Death of Marilyn Monroe by Sharon Olds


The Death of Marilyn Monroe

The ambulance men touched her cold
body, lifted it, heavy as iron,
onto the stretcher, tried to close the
mouth, closed the eyes, tied the
arms to the sides, moved a caught
strand of hair, as if it mattered,
saw the shape of her breasts, flattened by
gravity, under the sheet
carried her, as if it were she,
down the steps.

These men were never the same. They went out
afterwards, as they always did,
for a drink or two, but they could not meet
each other's eyes.

Their lives took
a turn -- one had nightmares, strange
pains, impotence, depression. One did not
like his work, his wife looked
different, his kids. Even death
seemed different to him -- a place where she
would be waiting,

and one found himself standing at night
in the doorway to a room of sleep, listening to a
woman breathing, just an ordinary
woman
breathing.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Grave by Justin Chin


Grave

In the harsh glare of an easily
reprehensible life. The channel changer is lost
in the crack of an infinite sofa.
       Everything falls apart, everything breaks
down, torn into a million
              fragments, Jericho everyday.

I want to be the blameless
victim in this canceled puppet show,
the marionette every mother loves, the one
souvenirs are modeled from.

               (In that lifetime, Elton John will write mushy ballads just
               for me. Michael Jackson will want to be my best friend. He’d
               take me to the Neverland Ranch, and by the llama feeding trough,
               he’d say something like, “You’re a great guy, don’t give up,
               stay positive!” And I’d say, “Michael, you fucking idiot, I am
               positive!” And he’d say, “Oh, you’re so funny! Would you like
               to touch Bubbles?”
               And I would.)

In the crux of my hollow innocent youth,
I believed that my teddy bears had feelings.
       To cure me of this, my guardians made me give
them to the church missionaries’ children.
Scrubbed-clean rosy-cheeked blonde kids who smelled
of sweat and talc, who were in constant
wide-blue-eyed bewilderment as to why
they were profusely perspiring in the tropics,
instead of living out some winter wonderland Bobsey Twins
fantasy, who were oblivious
to their parents’ desperate efforts
to save the dusky masses, ignorant enough
to believe in the secret lives of stuffed animals.
               I could not eat animal crackers
because I did not want to hurt the poor things;
but, braised the right way, I could eat
any part of a pig, starting with the head,
working on the soft flesh around the eyes,
savoring its raspy tongue with a dipping
sauce of ginger, chilies and lime.

Oh blameless innocent victim.
What measures a lifetime?

I used to have this theory about how
much life a human body could hold.
It all had to do with the number
of heartbeats. Each human is assigned a number
determined by an unknown power cascading
over the dark waters of the unformed Earth.

       For some, it was a magnificently high number,
seen only in Richie Rich comics, and for others,
it was frightfully low, like twenty-six.
               No bargaining, no coupons,
no White Flower Day sale, no specials. Once
you hit your number, you croak.
                           I imagined the angels in heaven
and the demons in hell gathering to watch
the counters turn, like how I enjoyed watching
the speedometer line up to a row of similar
numbers, and especially when the row of
nines turned into
                           the row of zeros.

Oh blameless innocent victim.
What measures eternity?

An eternal damnation. An everlasting love.

I could not imagine the night sky
stretched out forever, so I decided that it came
to an end at some point, by a velvet rope it ended
and beyond that rope were row after row of cushioned seats,
       a majestic cosmic theater,
playing every movie I can remember.

I want to be able to evoke
those blameless and innocent days, to revel
in their ignorance and goodness
as if they have the power
       to protect and to heal,
and to strengthen,
and to bring me to safety
       long after all other resources
               were exhausted.

But I emerge anew in the wreckage,
blinking in the sunlight,

the residue of salt water in my belly.

You know what they say,
God never closes a door before making sure
that the windows are barricaded
and the fire escape is inaccessible.

I used to know how to stop the revolution of planets.

I used to know how to save the world.

Now, I don’t know anything anymore.

 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

For the Sleepwalkers by Edward Hirsch


For the Sleepwalkers

Tonight I want to say something wonderful
for the sleepwalkers who have so much faith
in their legs, so much faith in the invisible

arrow carved into the carpet, the worn path
that leads to the stairs instead of the window,
the gaping doorway instead of the seamless mirror.

I love the way that sleepwalkers are willing
to step out of their bodies into the night,
to raise their arms and welcome the darkness,

palming the blank spaces, touching everything.
Always they return home safely, like blind men
who know it is morning by feeling shadows.

And always they wake up as themselves again.
That’s why I want to say something astonishing
like: Our hearts are leaving our bodies.

Our hearts are thirsty black handkerchiefs
flying through the trees at night, soaking up
the darkest beams of moonlight, the music

of owls, the motion of wind-torn branches.
And now our hearts are thick black fists
flying back to the glove of our chests.

We have to learn to trust our hearts like that.
We have to learn the desperate faith of sleep-
walkers who rise out of their calm beds

and walk through the skin of another life.
We have to drink the stupefying cup of darkness
and wake up to ourselves, nourished and surprised.
 
 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sleeping by Raymond Carver


Sleeping

He slept on his hands.
On a rock.
On his feet.
On someone else's feet.
He slept on buses, trains, in airplanes.
Slept on duty.
Slept beside the road.
Slept on a sack of apples.
He slept in a pay toilet.
In a hayloft.
In the Super Dome.
Slept in a Jaguar, and in the back of a pickup.
Slept in theaters.
In jail.
On boats.
He slept in line shacks and, once, in a castle.
Slept in the rain.
In blistering sun he slept.
On horseback.
He slept in chairs, churches, in fancy hotels.
He slept under strange roofs all his life.
Now he sleeps under the earth.
Sleeps on and on.
Like an old king.

 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Vines by Kaveh Akbar


Vines

there are fat wet vines creeping into my
                                             house through the pipes and through

                               the walls gentle as blue flames they curl into
my living there is ice in my attic sugar on my
                tile I am present and useless like a nose torn

                                        from a face and set in a bowl when
                            I saw God I used the wrong pronouns

                                               God bricked up my mouthhole
                                                       his fists were white as gold there were
                            roaches in my beard now I live like a widow

every day a heave of knitting patterns
                                            and sex toys my family speaks of me

                           with such pride noonesh to roghane they say
his bread is in oil I thank them for that and
                 for their chromosomes most of which

                                            have been lovely I am lovely too my body
                             is hard and choked with juice like a plastic

                                               throat stuffed with real grapes my turn-ons
                                                      include Ovid and fake leather my turn-
                             offs have all been ushered into the base-

ment I’ll drink to them and to any victory
                                           the vines are all growing toward the foot

                             of my bed I am waiting for them to come
under the covers I am the only person still in
                  this house there is no one here to look away

 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Engines Within the Throne by Cathy Park Hong


Engines Within the Throne

We once worked as clerks
          scanning moth-balled pages 
into the clouds, all memories 
outsourced except the fuzzy
          childhood bits when  

I was an undersized girl with a tic, 
they numbed me with botox
          I was a skinsuit 
of dumb expression, just fingerprints 
over my shamed

           all I wanted was snow 
to snuff the sun blades to shadow spokes, 
muffle the drum of freeways, erase
          the old realism  

but this smart snow erases
          nothing, seeps everywhere, 
the search engine is inside us, 
the world is our display

           and now every industry 
has dumped whole cubicles, desktops, 
fax machines into developing
          worlds where they stack 
them as walls against  

what disputed territory
          we asked the old spy who drank 
with Russians to gather information 
the old-fashioned way,  

now we have snow sensors,
          so you can go spelunking 
in anyone’s mind, 
let me borrow your child  

thoughts, it’s benign surveillance,
          I can burrow inside, find a cave 
pool with rock-colored flounder, 
and find you, half-transparent 
with depression.

 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Girl at Christmas by Ishion Hutchinson


Girl at Christmas

For all she’s gladdened: milk
dreaming love in one hand;
clefts of clementine stain

the other. They cannot die;
the coral joy and battering
ceramic, the peach bones

and scotch bonnet seeds;
the sorrel, and foil mask she then puts
on to belt her savage choir.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Remains by Mark Strand


The Remains

I empty myself of the names of others. I empty my pockets.
I empty my shoes and leave them beside the road.
At night I turn back the clocks;
I open the family album and look at myself as a boy.
What good does it do? The hours have done their job.
I say my own name. I say goodbye.
The words follow each other downwind.
I love my wife but send her away.
My parents rise out of their thrones
into the milky rooms of clouds.
How can I sing? Time tells me what I am.
I change and I am the same.
I empty myself of my life and my life remains.

 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Having it Out with Melancholy by Jane Kenyon


Having it Out with Melancholy

          If many remedies are prescribed
          for an illness, you may be certain
          that the illness has no cure.
                              A. P. CHEKHOV
                             The Cherry Orchard

1  FROM THE NURSERY 

When I was born, you waited 
behind a pile of linen in the nursery, 
and when we were alone, you lay down 
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore. 

And from that day on 
everything under the sun and moon 
made me sad—even the yellow 
wooden beads that slid and spun 
along a spindle on my crib. 

You taught me to exist without gratitude. 
You ruined my manners toward God:
“We’re here simply to wait for death; 
the pleasures of earth are overrated.” 

I only appeared to belong to my mother, 
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts 
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases. 
I was already yours—the anti-urge, 
the mutilator of souls.  

2  BOTTLES 

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin, 
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, 
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft. 
The coated ones smell sweet or have 
no smell; the powdery ones smell 
like the chemistry lab at school 
that made me hold my breath.   

3  SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND 

You wouldn’t be so depressed
if you really believed in God.   

4  OFTEN 

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner 
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away 
from the massive pain in sleep’s 
frail wicker coracle.   

5  ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT 

Once, in my early thirties, I saw 
that I was a speck of light in the great 
river of light that undulates through time. 

I was floating with the whole 
human family. We were all colors—those 
who are living now, those who have died, 
those who are not yet born. For a few 

moments I floated, completely calm, 
and I no longer hated having to exist. 

Like a crow who smells hot blood 
you came flying to pull me out 
of the glowing stream.
“I’ll hold you up. I never let my dear 
ones drown!” After that, I wept for days.   

6  IN AND OUT 

The dog searches until he finds me 
upstairs, lies down with a clatter 
of elbows, puts his head on my foot. 

Sometimes the sound of his breathing 
saves my life—in and out, in 
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .    

7  PARDON 

A piece of burned meat 
wears my clothes, speaks 
in my voice, dispatches obligations 
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying 
to be stouthearted, tired 
beyond measure. 

We move on to the monoamine 
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night 
I feel as if I had drunk six cups 
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder 
and bitterness of someone pardoned 
for a crime she did not commit 
I come back to marriage and friends, 
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back 
to my desk, books, and chair.   

8  CREDO 

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work 
but I believe only in this moment 
of well-being. Unholy ghost, 
you are certain to come again. 

Coarse, mean, you’ll put your feet 
on the coffee table, lean back, 
and turn me into someone who can’t 
take the trouble to speak; someone 
who can’t sleep, or who does nothing 
but sleep; can’t read, or call 
for an appointment for help. 

There is nothing I can do 
against your coming. 
When I awake, I am still with thee.   

9  WOOD THRUSH 

High on Nardil and June light 
I wake at four, 
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air  p
resses through the screen 
with the wild, complex song 
of the bird, and I am overcome 

by ordinary contentment. 
What hurt me so terribly 
all my life until this moment? 
How I love the small, swiftly 
beating heart of the bird 
singing in the great maples; 
its bright, unequivocal eye.