Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Way Things Work by Jorie Graham


The Way Things Work

The way things work
is by admitting
or opening away.
This is the simplest form
of current: Blue
moving through blue;
blue through purple;
the objects of desire
opening upon themselves
without us; the objects of faith.
The way things work
is by solution,
resistance lessened or
increased and taken
advantage of.
The way things work
is that we finally believe
they are there,
common and able
to illustrate themselves.
Wheel, kinetic flow,
rising and falling water,
ingots, levers and keys,
I believe in you,
cylinder lock, pulley,
lifting tackle and
crane lift your small head–
I believe in you–
your head is the horizon to
my hand. I believe
forever in the hooks.
The way things work
is that eventually
something catches.

 

Against Winter by Charles Simić


Against Winter

The truth is dark under your eyelids.
What are you going to do about it?
The birds are silent; there's no one to ask.
All day long you'll squint at the gray sky.
When the wind blows you'll shiver like straw.

A meek little lamb you grew your wool
Till they came after you with huge shears.
Flies hovered over open mouth,
Then they, too, flew off like the leaves,
The bare branches reached after them in vain.

Winter coming. Like the last heroic soldier
Of a defeated army, you'll stay at your post,
Head bared to the first snow flake.
Till a neighbor comes to yell at you,
You're crazier than the weather, Charlie. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Allowables by Nikki Giovanni


Allowables

I killed a spider
Not a murderous brown recluse
Nor even a black widow
And if the truth were told this
Was only a small
Sort of papery spider
Who should have run
When I picked up the book
But she didn't
And she scared me
And I smashed her

I don't think
I'm allowed

To kill something

Because I am

Frightened

 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Note by Wisława Szymborska


A Note

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it's not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble upon a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;

and to keep on not knowing
something important.

(Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanaugh)

 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Oatmeal by Galway Kinnell


Oatmeal

I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone.
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that it is better for your mental health if somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have breakfast with.
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary companion.
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal with John Keats.
Keats said I was right to invite him: due to its glutinous texture, gluey, hint of slime, and unusual willingness to disintegrate, oatmeal must never be eaten alone.
He said it is perfectly OK, however, to eat it with an imaginary companion,
and he himself had enjoyed memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and John Milton.
He also told me about writing the “Ode to a Nightingale.”
He wrote it quickly, he said, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck in his pocket,
but when he got home he couldn’t figure out the order of the stanzas, and he and a friend spread the papers on a table, and they made some sense of them, but he isn’t sure to this day if they got it right.
He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between stanzas,
and the way here and there a line will go into the configuration of a Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up and peer about, then lay itself down slightly off the mark, causing the poem to move forward with God’s reckless wobble.
He said someone told him that later in life Wordsworth heard about the scraps of paper on the table, and tried shuffling some stanzas of his own, but only made matters worse.
When breakfast was over, John recited “To Autumn.”
He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the words lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet.
He didn’t offer the story of writing “To Autumn,” I doubt if there is much of one.
But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field got him started on it
and two of the lines, “For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells” and “Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours,” came to him while eating oatmeal alone.
I can see him—drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the glimmering furrows, muttering—and it occurs to me:
maybe there is no sublime, only the shining of the amnion’s tatters.
For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato left over from lunch.
I’m aware that a leftover baked potato can be damp, slippery, and simultaneously gummy and crumbly,
and therefore I’m going to invite Patrick Kavanagh to join me.

 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Winter Stars by Larry Levis


Winter Stars

My father once broke a man’s hand
Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,
Ruben Vasquez, wanted to kill his own father
With a sharpened fruit knife, and he held
The curved tip of it, lightly, between his first
Two fingers, so it could slash
Horizontally, & with surprising grace,
Across a throat. It was like a glinting beak in a hand,
And, for a moment, the light held still
On those vines. When it was over,
My father simply went in & ate lunch, & then, as always,
Lay alone in the dark, listening to music.
He never mentioned it.

I never understood how anyone could risk his life,
Then listen to Vivaldi.

Sometimes, I go out into this yard at night,
And stare through the wet branches of an oak
In winter, & realize I am looking at the stars
Again. A thin haze of them, shining
And persisting.

It used to make me feel lighter, looking up at them.
In California, that light was closer.
In a California no one will ever see again,
My father is beginning to die. Something
Inside him is slowly taking back
Every word it ever gave him.
Now, if we try to talk, I watch my father
Search for a lost syllable as if it might
Solve everything, & though he can’t remember, now,
The word for it, he is ashamed…
If you can think of the mind as a place continually
Visited, a whole city placed behind
The eyes, & shining, I can imagine, now, its end—
As when the lights go off, one by one,
In a hotel at night, until at last
All of the travelers will be asleep, or until
Even the thin glow from the lobby is a kind
Of sleep; & while the woman behind the desk
Is applying more lacquer to her nails,
You can almost believe that elevator,
As it ascends, must open upon starlight.

I stand out on the street, & do not go in.
That was our agreement, at my birth.

And for years I believed
That what went unsaid between us became empty,
And pure, like starlight, & that it persisted.

I got it all wrong.
I wound up believing in words the way a scientist
Believes in carbon, after death.

Tonight, I’m talking to you, father, although
It is quiet here in the Midwest, where a small wind,
The size of a wrist, wakes the cold again—
Which may be all that’s left of you & me.

When I left home at seventeen, I left for good.

That pale haze of stars goes on & on,
Like laughter that has found a final, silent shape
On a black sky. It means everything
It cannot say. Look, it’s empty out there, & cold.
Cold enough to reconcile
Even a father, even a son.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Enough by Ellen Bass


Enough

Enough seen….Enough had....Enough…
                            —Arthur Rimbaud

No. It will never be enough. Never
enough wind clamoring in the trees,
sun and shadow handling each leaf, never enough clang
of my neighbor hammering,
the iron nails, relenting wood, sound waves
lapping over roofs, never enough
bees purposeful at the throats
of lilies. How could we be replete
with the flesh of ripe tomatoes, the unique
scent of their crushed leaves. It would take many
births to be done with the thatness of that.

Oh blame life. That we just want more.
Summer rain. Mud. A cup of tea.
Our teeth, our eyes. A baby in a stroller.
Another spoonful of crème brûlée, sweet burnt crust crackling.
And hot showers, oh lovely, lovely hot showers.

Today was a good day.
My mother-in-law sat on the porch, eating crackers and cheese
with a watered-down margarita
and though her nails are no longer stop-light red
and she can’t remember who’s alive and dead,
still, this was a day
with no weeping, no unstoppable weeping.

Last night, through the small window of my laptop,
I watched a dying man kill himself in Switzerland.
He wore a blue shirt and snow was falling
onto a small blue house, onto dark needles of pine and fir.
He didn’t step outside to feel the snow on his face.
He sat at a table with his wife and drank poison.

Online I found a plastic bag complete with Velcro
and a hole for a tube to a propane tank. I wouldn’t have to
move our Weber. I could just slide
down the stucco to the flagstones, where the healthy
weeds are sprouting through the cracks.
Maybe it wouldn’t be half-bad
to go out looking at the yellowing leaves of the old camellia.
And from there I could see the chickens scratching—
if we still have chickens then. And yet…

this little hat of life, how will I bear
to take it off while I can still reach up? Snug woolen watch cap,
lacy bonnet, yellow cloche with the yellow veil
I wore the Easter I turned thirteen when my mother let me promenade
with Tommy Spagnola on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

Oxygen, oxygen, the cry of the body—and you always want to give it
what it wants. But I must say no—
enough, enough
with more tenderness
than I have ever given to a lover, the gift
of the nipple hardening under my fingertip, more
tenderness than to my newborn,
when I held her still flecked
with my blood. I’ll say the most gentle refusal
to this dear dumb animal and tighten
the clasp around my throat that once was kissed and kissed
until the blood couldn’t rest in its channel, but rose
to the surface like a fish that couldn’t wait to be caught.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

To Myself by Franz Wright


To Myself

You are riding the bus again
burrowing into the blackness of Interstate 80,   
the sole passenger

with an overhead light on.   
And I am with you.
I’m the interminable fields you can’t see,

the little lights off in the distance   
(in one of those rooms we are   
living) and I am the rain

and the others all
around you, and the loneliness you love,
and the universe that loves you specifically, maybe,

and the catastrophic dawn,
the nicotine crawling on your skin—
and when you begin

to cough I won’t cover my face,
and if you vomit this time I will hold you:   
everything’s going to be fine

I will whisper.
It won’t always be like this.
I am going to buy you a sandwich.

 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio by James Wright


Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.
 
All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.
 
Therefore,
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

I Saw I Dreamt Two Men by Rickey Laurentiis


I Saw I Dreamt Two Men

I saw I dreamt

Two men hoisted hung up not American the rope
Not closed on their breathing

But this rope tied them spine to spine somehow

Suspended
From the mood of a tree not American they were

African Ugandan Nigerian

Without a license a right to touch
The sin their touching incites

And I heard their names called out Revision

Or Die and You Must Repent
And Forget the Lie you Lily-Boys you Faggots

Called up from the mob

Of their mothers their fathers
With Christ in the blood who had Christ in the blood

Who sung out “Abide with Me”

This was my eyes’ closed-eyed vision
This is what a darkness makes

And how did I move from that distance to intimacy

So close I could see
The four soles of their feet so close I was kneeled

Could lick

Those feet as if I was because I became
The fire who abided

I saw that I dreamt

Their black skin made blacker by my feeding
I thought Christ

Why did I think

Their black skin tipped blacker by this American
Feeding but just one shot up

A cry African it was

American O Lord abide with me
It was human lusty flat

You had to be in the hollow of it to taste it

You had to see how in such lack
Invention takes hold

They say some dreams come in the moment

Of waking
Stitched because daylight likes a story

That some dreams are extensions

Of an itch
Thief-walking the coral of the brain

I say

But I did feel that one blue mouth blow out
As I felt

The mood of that tree

As I saw the other turn away apart stay with silence
I stayed with southern silence

 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Tired by Langston Hughes


Tired

I am so tired of waiting,
Aren't you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two—
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.

 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Looking Across The Fields And Watching The Birds Fly by Wallace Stevens

Looking Across The Fields And Watching The Birds Fly

Among the more irritating minor ideas 
Of Mr. Homburg during his visits home 
To Concord, at the edge of things, was this: 

To think away the grass, the trees, the clouds, 
Not to transform them into other things, 
Is only what the sun does every day, 

Until we say to ourselves that there may be 
A pensive nature, a mechanical 
And slightly detestable operandum, free 

From man's ghost, larger and yet a little like, 
Without his literature and without his gods . . . 
No doubt we live beyond ourselves in air, 

In an element that does not do for us, 
so well, that which we do for ourselves, too big, 
A thing not planned for imagery or belief, 

Not one of the masculine myths we used to make, 
A transparency through which the swallow weaves, 
Without any form or any sense of form, 

What we know in what we see, what we feel in what 
We hear, what we are, beyond mystic disputation, 
In the tumult of integrations out of the sky, 

And what we think, a breathing like the wind, 
A moving part of a motion, a discovery 
Part of a discovery, a change part of a change, 

A sharing of color and being part of it. 
The afternoon is visibly a source, 
Too wide, too irised, to be more than calm, 

Too much like thinking to be less than thought, 
Obscurest parent, obscurest patriarch, 
A daily majesty of meditation, 

That comes and goes in silences of its own. 
We think, then as the sun shines or does not. 
We think as wind skitters on a pond in a field 

Or we put mantles on our words because 
The same wind, rising and rising, makes a sound 
Like the last muting of winter as it ends. 

A new scholar replacing an older one reflects 
A moment on this fantasia. He seeks 
For a human that can be accounted for. 

The spirit comes from the body of the world, 
Or so Mr. Homburg thought: the body of a world 
Whose blunt laws make an affectation of mind, 

The mannerism of nature caught in a glass 
And there become a spirit's mannerism, 
A glass as warm with things going as far as they can. 

 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Beautiful Youth by Gottfried Benn


Beautiful Youth

The mouth of the girl who had lain long in the rushes
looked so nibbled.
When they opened her chest, her esophagus was so holey.
Finally in a bower under the diaphragm
they found a nest of young rats.
One little thing lay dead.
The others were living off kidneys and liver
drinking the cold blood and had
had themselves a beautiful youth.
And just as beautiful and quick was their death:
the lot of them were thrown into the water.
Ah, will you hearken at the little muzzles’ oinks!

(Translated by Michael Hofmann)

 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Monday in B-Flat by Amiri Baraka


Monday in B-Flat

I can pray 
    all day 
    & God 
    wont come.

But if I call 
            911
        The Devil
            Be here
        in a minute! 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Trillium by Deborah Digges


Trillium

How ever bad it was, she must have loved the dog, their walks by the river. How the man who brought her here or what he thought no longer mattered. Say she was spindrift. That’s how it felt. Nothing engaged her. Days went by before she’d bathe. She could smell the animal like anguish in her hair and reveled in it. But for the dog she might have hanged herself, or filled her pockets full of stones instead of scraps for Cerberus. Two steps at a time she took the dark staircases. Outside the gates, among the beggar dead, she’d find him, kneel, unlock his chains. He leaned against her, as they walked, his sphinx’s shoulders. What he knew of her of course, no one can say. Call it a nearness like a room you make inside yourself for sorrow. Few are invited in. And she to him? Cerberus was welcome. In spring among the trillium she longed for him. Who could believe it was a pomegranate seed secured her soul? It was the dog that kept her going back.

 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Home by Peter Balakian


Home

Driving Route 20 to Syracuse past pastures of cows and falling silos

you feel the desert stillness near the refineries at the Syrian border.

Walking in fog on Mecox Bay, the long lines of squawking birds on shore,

you’re walking along Flinders Street Station, the flaring yellow stone and walls
of windows where your uncle landed after he fled a Turkish prison.

You walked all day along the Yarra, crossing the sculptural bridges with their
twisting steel,

the hollow sound of the didgeridoo like the flutes of Anatolia.

One road is paved with coins, another with razor blades and ripped condoms.

Walking the boardwalk in January past Atlantic City Hall, the rusted Deco
ticket sign, the waves black into white,
you smell the grilled ćevapi in the Baščaršija of Sarajevo,

and that street took you to the Jewish cemetery where the weeds grew over
the slabs and a mausoleum stood intact.
There was a trail of carnelian you followed in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem

and picking up those stones now, you’re walking in the salt marsh on the
potato fields,
the day undercut by the flatness of the sky, the wide view of the Atlantic, the
cold spray.

Your uncle stashed silk and linen, lace and silver in a suitcase on a ship that
docked not far from here; the ship moved in and out of port for years, and
your uncle kept coming

and going, from Melbourne to London to Kolkata and back, never returning to
the Armenian village near the Black Sea.

The topaz ring you passed on in a silver shop in Aleppo appeared on Lexington
off 65th;
the shop owner, a young guy from Ivory Coast, shrugged when you told him you
had seen it

before; the shuffled dust of that street fills your throat and you remember how a
slew of
coins poured out of your pocket like a slinky near the ruined castle now a disco in

Thessaloniki where a young girl was stabbed under the strobe lights—lights that
lit the

sky that was the iridescent eye of a peacock in Larnaca at noon, when you walked
into the

church where Lazarus had come home to die and you forgot that Lazarus died

because the story was in one of your uncle’s books that were wrapped in
newspaper in a suitcase and
stashed under the seat of an old Ford, and when he got to the border

he left the car and walked the rest of the way, and when you pass the apartment

on 116th and Broadway—where your father grew up (though it’s a dorm now)—
that suitcase is buried in a closet under clothes, and when you walk past the
security guard

at the big glass entrance door, you’re walking through wet grass, clouds
clumped on a hillside, a subway station sliding into water.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

I, Too by Langston Hughes


I, Too

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

 

The Dark Apartment by James Schuyler


The Dark Apartment

Coming from the deli
a block away today I
saw the UN building
shine and in all the
months and years I’ve
lived in this apartment
I took so you and I
would have a place to
meet I never noticed
that it was in my view.

I remember very well
the morning I walked in
and found you in bed
with X. He dressed
and left. You dressed
too. I said, “Stay
five minutes.” You
did. You said, “That’s
the way it is.” It
was not much of a surprise.

Then X got on speed
and ripped off an
antique chest and an
air conditioner, etc.
After he was gone and
you had changed the
Segal lock, I asked
you on the phone, “Can’t
you be content with
your wife and me?” “I’m
not built that way,”
you said. No surprise.

Now, without saying
why, you’ve let me go.
You don’t return my
calls, who used to call
me almost every evening
when I lived in the coun-
try. “Hasn’t he told you
why?” “No, and I doubt he
ever will.” Goodbye. It’s
mysterious and frustrating.

How I wish you would come
back! I could tell
you how, when I lived
on East 49th, first
with Frank and then with John,
we had a lovely view of
the UN building and the
Beekman Towers. They were
not my lovers, though.
You were. You said so.

 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay


Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.