Friday, March 31, 2017

Ecce Homo by John Berryman


Ecce Homo

Long, long with wonder I thought you human,
almost beyond humanity but not.
Once, years ago, only in a high bare hall
of the great Catalan museum over Barcelona,
I thought you might be more—

a Pantocrator glares down, from San Clemente de Tahull,
making me feel you probably were divine
but not human, through that majestic image.
Now I've come on something where you seem both.
A photograph of it only—

Burgundian, of painted & gilt wood,
life-size almost (not that we know your Semitic stature),
attenuated, your dead head bent forward sideways,
your long feet hanging, your thin long arms out
in unconquerable beseeching-

 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Equinox by Elizabeth Alexander


Equinox

Now is the time of year when bees are wild 
and eccentric. They fly fast and in cramped 
loop-de-loops, dive-bomb clusters of conversants 
in the bright, late-September out-of-doors. 
I have found their dried husks in my clothes. 

They are dervishes because they are dying, 
one last sting, a warm place to squeeze 
a drop of venom or of honey. 
After the stroke we thought would be her last 
my grandmother came back, reared back and slapped 

a nurse across the face. Then she stood up, 
walked outside, and lay down in the snow. 
Two years later there is no other way 
to say, we are waiting. She is silent, light 
as an empty hive, and she is breathing.

 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Things I Didn’t Know I Loved by Nazim Hikmet


Things I Didn’t Know I Loved

it’s 1962 March 28th
I’m sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train 
night is falling
I never knew I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smoky wet plain 
I don’t like comparing
nightfall to a tired bird 

I didn’t know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn’t worked the earth love it 
I’ve never worked the earth
it must be my only Platonic love 

and here I’ve loved rivers all this time
whether motionless like this they curl skirting the hills
European hills crowned with chateaus
or whether stretched out flat as far as the eye can see
I know you can’t wash in the same river even once
I know the river will bring new lights you’ll never see
I know we live slightly longer than a horse but not nearly as long as a crow
I know this has troubled people before
                         and will trouble those after me
I know all this has been said a thousand times before
                         and will be said after me 

I didn’t know I loved the sky 
cloudy or clear
the blue vault Andrei studied on his back at Borodino
in prison I translated both volumes of War and Peace into Turkish 
I hear voices
not from the blue vault but from the yard 
the guards are beating someone again
I didn’t know I loved trees
bare beeches near Moscow in Peredelkino
they come upon me in winter noble and modest 
beeches are Russian the way poplars are Turkish 
“the poplars of Izmir
losing their leaves. . .
they call me The Knife. . .
                        lover like a young tree. . .
I blow stately mansions sky-high”
in the Ilgaz woods in 1920 I tied an embroidered linen
handkerchief
                                       to a pine bough for luck 

I never knew I loved roads 
even the asphalt kind
Vera’s behind the wheel we’re driving from Moscow to the
Crimea
                                                            Koktebele
                                formerly “Goktepé ili” in Turkish 
the two of us inside a closed box
the world flows past on both sides distant and mute 
I was never so close to anyone in my life
bandits stopped me on the red road between Bolu and Geredé
                                         when I was eighteen
apart from my life I didn’t have anything in the wagon they could take 
and at eighteen our lives are what we value least
I’ve written this somewhere before
wading through a dark muddy street I’m going to the shadow play 
Ramazan night
a paper lantern leading the way
maybe nothing like this ever happened
maybe I read it somewhere an eight-year-old boy
                                      going to the shadow play
Ramazan night in Istanbul holding his grandfather’s hand
    his grandfather has on a fez and is wearing the fur coat
      with a sable collar over his robe
   and there’s a lantern in the servant’s hand
   and I can’t contain myself for joy
flowers come to mind for some reason 
poppies cactuses jonquils
in the jonquil garden in Kadikoy Istanbul I kissed Marika 
fresh almonds on her breath
I was seventeen
my heart on a swing touched the sky 
I didn’t know I loved flowers
friends sent me three red carnations in prison 

I just remembered the stars 
I love them too
whether I’m floored watching them from below 
or whether I’m flying at their side 

I have some questions for the cosmonauts
 were the stars much bigger
did they look like huge jewels on black velvet
                             or apricots on orange
did you feel proud to get closer to the stars
I saw color photos of the cosmos in Ogonek magazine now don’t
    be upset comrades but nonfigurative shall we say or abstract
    well some of them looked just like such paintings which is to
    say they were terribly figurative and concrete
my heart was in my mouth looking at them 
they are our endless desire to grasp things seeing them
I could even think of death and not feel at all sad 
I never knew I loved the cosmos 

snow flashes in front of my eyes
both heavy wet steady snow and the dry whirling kind 
I didn’t know I liked snow  

I never knew I loved the sun
even when setting cherry-red as now
in Istanbul too it sometimes sets in postcard colors 
but you aren’t about to paint it that way
I didn’t know I loved the sea
                             except the Sea of Azov
or how much  

I didn’t know I loved clouds
whether I’m under or up above them
whether they look like giants or shaggy white beasts 

moonlight the falsest the most languid the most petit-bourgeois 
strikes me
I like it 

I didn’t know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass my
    heart leaves me tangled up in a net or trapped inside a drop
    and takes off for uncharted countries I didn’t know I loved
    rain but why did I suddenly discover all these passions sitting
    by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
is it because I lit my sixth cigarette 
one alone could kill me
is it because I’m half dead from thinking about someone back in Moscow
her hair straw-blond eyelashes blue 

the train plunges on through the pitch-black night
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn’t know I loved sparks
I didn’t know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty
    to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
    watching the world disappear as if on a journey of no return

(Translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk)

 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Fluffy Stuff by May Swenson


The Fluffy Stuff

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

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

 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Forgetfulness by Billy Collins


Forgetfulness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black, Poured Directly into the Wound by Patricia Smith


Black, Poured Directly into the Wound

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

 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

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


Little Sleep's-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight

1

You scream, waking from a nightmare.

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

2

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

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

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

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

3

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

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

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

4

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

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

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

5

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

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

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

The still undanced cadence of vanishing.

6

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

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

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

7

Back you go, into your crib.

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

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

 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Skunk Hour by Robert Lowell


Skunk Hour

    For Elizabeth Bishop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Night Feeding by Muriel Rukeyser


Night Feeding

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

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

October by Frederick Seidel


October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom of Form

 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Being Muslim by Hayan Charara


Being Muslim

O father bringing home crates
of apples, bushels of corn,
and skinned rabbits on ice.

O mother boiling lentils in a pot
while he watched fight after fight,
boxers pinned on the ropes

pummeling each other mercilessly.
And hung on the wall where we
ate breakfast an autographed photo

of Muhammad Ali. O father
who worshipped him and with
a clenched fist pretended to be:

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
O you loved being Muslim then.
Even when you drank whiskey.

Even when you knocked down
my mother again and again.
O prayer. O god of sun.

God of moon. Of cows
and of thunder. Of women.
Of bees. Of ants and spiders,

poets and calamity.
God of the pen, of the fig,
of the elephant.

Ta’ Ha’, Ya Sin, Sad, Qaf. 
God of my father, listen:
He prayed, he prayed, five times a day,

and he was mean.

 

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Colonel by Carolyn Forché

The Colonel

What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried 
a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went   
out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the 
cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over 
the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. 
Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to 
scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his hands to lace. On 
the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had 
dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for 
calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of 
bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief 
commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was 
some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot 
said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed 
himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say 
nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries 
home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like 
dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one 
of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water 
glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As 
for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck them- 
selves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last 
of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some 
of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the 
ears on the floor were pressed to the ground. 
                                                                                     May 1978

 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Far Cry from Africa by Derek Walcott


A Far Cry from Africa

A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt
Of Africa. Kikuyu, quick as flies,
Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.
Corpses are scattered through a paradise.
Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries:
“Waste no compassion on these separate dead!”
Statistics justify and scholars seize
The salients of colonial policy.
What is that to the white child hacked in bed?
To savages, expendable as Jews? 

Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break
In a white dust of ibises whose cries
Have wheeled since civilization’s dawn
From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.
The violence of beast on beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.
Delirious as these worried beasts, his wars
Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum,
While he calls courage still that native dread
Of the white peace contracted by the dead. 

Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,
The gorilla wrestles with the superman.
I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?

 

Distressed Haiku by Donald Hall


Distressed Haiku

In a week or ten days
the snow and ice
will melt from Cemetery Road.

I'm coming! Don't move!

            *

Once again it is April.
Today is the day
we would have been married
twenty-six years.

I finished with April
halfway through March.

            *

You think that their
dying is the worst
thing that could happen.

Then they stay dead.

            *

Will Hall ever write
lines that do anything
but whine and complain?

In April the blue
mountain revises
from white to green.

            *

The Boston Red Sox win
a hundred straight games.
The mouse rips
the throat of the lion

and the dead return.