Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Star-Apple Kingdom by Derek Walcott


The Star-Apple Kingdom

There were still shards of an ancient pastoral 
in those shires of the island where the cattle drank 
their pools of shadow from an older sky, 
surviving from when the landscape copied such objects as 
'Herefords at Sunset in the valley of the Wye.' 
The mountain water that fell white from the mill wheel 
sprinkling like petals from the star-apple trees, 
and all of the windmills and sugar mills moved by mules 
on the treadmill of Monday to Monday, would repeat 
in tongues of water and wind and fire, in tongues 
of Mission School pickaninnies, like rivers remembering 
their source, Parish Trelawny, Parish St David, Parish 
St Andrew, the names afflicting the pastures, 
the lime groves and fences of marl stone and the cattle 
with a docile longing, an epochal content. 
And there were, like old wedding lace in an attic, 
among the boas and parasols and the tea-colored 
daguerreotypes, hints of an epochal happiness 
as ordered and infinite to the child 
as the great house road to the Great House 
down a perspective of casuarinas plunging green manes 
in time to the horses, an orderly life 
reduced by lorgnettes day and night, one disc the sun, 
the other the moon, reduced into a pier glass: 
nannies diminished to dolls, mahogany stairways 
no larger than those of an album in which 
the flash of cutlery yellows, as gamboge as 
the piled cakes of teatime on that latticed 
bougainvillea verandah that looked down toward 
a prospect of Cuyp-like Herefords under a sky 
lurid as a porcelain souvenir with these words: 
'Herefords at Sunset in the Valley of the Wye.' 

Strange, that the rancor of hatred hid in that dream 
of slow rivers and lily-like parasols, in snaps 
of fine old colonial families, curled at the edge 
not from age of from fire or the chemicals, no, not at all, 
but because, off at its edges, innocently excluded 
stood the groom, the cattle boy, the housemaid, the gardeners, 
the tenants, the good Negroes down in the village, 
their mouth in the locked jaw of a silent scream. 
A scream which would open the doors to swing wildly 
all night, that was bringing in heavier clouds, 
more black smoke than cloud, frightening the cattle 
in whose bulging eyes the Great House diminished; 
a scorching wind of a scream 
that began to extinguish the fireflies, 
that dried the water mill creaking to a stop 
as it was about to pronounce Parish Trelawny 
all over, in the ancient pastoral voice, 
a wind that blew all without bending anything, 
neither the leaves of the album nor the lime groves; 
blew Nanny floating back in white from a feather 
to a chimerical, chemical pin speck that shrank 
the drinking Herefords to brown porcelain cows 
on a mantelpiece, Trelawny trembling with dusk, 
the scorched pastures of the old benign Custos; blew 
far the decent servants and the lifelong cook, 
and shriveled to a shard that ancient pastoral 
of dusk in a gilt-edged frame now catching the evening sun 
in Jamaica, making both epochs one. 

He looked out from the Great House windows on 
clouds that still held the fragrance of fire, 
he saw the Botanical Gardens officially drown 
in a formal dusk, where governors had strolled 
and black gardeners had smiled over glinting shears 
at the lilies of parasols on the floating lawns, 
the flame trees obeyed his will and lowered their wicks, 
the flowers tightened their fists in the name of thrift, 
the porcelain lamps of ripe cocoa, the magnolia's jet 
dimmed on the one circuit with the ginger lilies 
and left a lonely bulb on the verandah, 
and, had his mandate extended to that ceiling 
of star-apple candelabra, he would have ordered 
the sky to sleep, saying, I'm tired, 
save the starlight for victories, we can't afford it, 
leave the moon on for one more hour, and that's it. 
But though his power, the given mandate, extended 
from tangerine daybreaks to star-apple dusks, 
his hand could not dam that ceaseless torrent of dust 
that carried the shacks of the poor, to their root-rock music, 
down the gullies of Yallahs and August Town, 
to lodge them on thorns of maca, with their rags 
crucified by cactus, tins, old tires, cartons; 
from the black Warieka Hills the sky glowed fierce as 
the dials of a million radios, 
a throbbing sunset that glowed like a grid 
where the dread beat rose from the jukebox of Kingston. 
He saw the fountains dried of quadrilles, the water-music 
of the country dancers, the fiddlers like fifes 
put aside. He had to heal 
this malarial island in its bath of bay leaves, 
its forests tossing with fever, the dry cattle 
groaning like winches, the grass that kept shaking 
its head to remember its name. No vowels left 
in the mill wheel, the river. Rock stone. Rock stone. 

The mountains rolled like whales through phosphorous stars, 
as he swayed like a stone down fathoms into sleep, 
drawn by that magnet which pulls down half the world 
between a star and a star, by that black power 
that has the assassin dreaming of snow, 
that poleaxes the tyrant to a sleeping child. 
The house is rocking at anchor, but as he falls 
his mind is a mill wheel in moonlight, 
and he hears, in the sleep of his moonlight, the drowned 
bell of Port Royal's cathedral, sees the copper pennies 
of bubbles rising from the empty eye-pockets 
of green buccaneers, the parrot fish floating 
from the frayed shoulders of pirates, sea horses 
drawing gowned ladies in their liquid promenade 
across the moss-green meadows of the sea; 
he heard the drowned choirs under Palisadoes, 
a hymn ascending to earth from a heaven inverted 
by water, a crab climbing the steeple, 
and he climbed from that submarine kingdom 
as the evening lights came on in the institute, 
the scholars lamplit in their own aquarium, 
he saw them mouthing like parrot fish, as he passed 
upward from that baptism, their history lessons, 
the bubbles like ideas which he could not break: 
Jamaica was captured by Penn and Venables, 
Port Royal perished in a cataclysmic earthquake. 

Before the coruscating façades of cathedrals 
from Santiago to Caracas, where penitential archbishops 
washed the feet of paupers (a parenthetical moment 
that made the Caribbean a baptismal font, 
turned butterflies to stone, and whitened like doves 
the buzzards circling municipal garbage), 
the Caribbean was borne like an elliptical basin 
in the hands of acolytes, and a people were absolved 
of a history which they did not commit; 
the slave pardoned his whip, and the dispossessed 
said the rosary of islands for three hundred years, 
a hymn that resounded like the hum of the sea 
inside a sea cave, as their knees turned to stone, 
while the bodies of patriots were melting down walls 
still crusted with mute outcries of La Revolucion! 
'San Salvador, pray for us,St. Thomas, San Domingo, 
ora pro nobis, intercede for us, Sancta Lucia 
of no eyes,' and when the circular chaplet 
reached the last black bead of Sancta Trinidad 
they began again, their knees drilled into stone, 
where Colon had begun, with San Salvador's bead, 
beads of black colonies round the necks of Indians. 
And while they prayed for an economic miracle, 
ulcers formed on the municipal portraits, 
the hotels went up, and the casinos and brothels, 
and the empires of tobacco, sugar, and bananas, 
until a black woman, shawled like a buzzard, 
climbed up the stairs and knocked at the door 
of his dream, whispering in the ear of the keyhole: 
'Let me in, I'm finished with praying, I'm the Revolution. 
I am the darker, the older America.' 

She was as beautiful as a stone in the sunrise, 
her voice had the gutturals of machine guns 
across khaki deserts where the cactus flower 
detonates like grenades, her sex was the slit throat 
of an Indian, her hair had the blue-black sheen of the crow. 
She was a black umbrella blown inside out 
by the wind of revolution, La Madre Dolorosa, 
a black rose of sorrow, a black mine of silence, 
raped wife, empty mother, Aztec virgin 
transfixed by arrows from a thousand guitars, 
a stone full of silence, which, if it gave tongue 
to the tortures done in the name of the Father, 
would curdle the blood of the marauding wolf, 
the fountain of generals, poets, and cripples 
who danced without moving over their graves 
with each revolution; her Caesarean was stitched 
by the teeth of machine guns,and every sunset 
she carried the Caribbean's elliptical basin 
as she had once carried the penitential napkins 
to be the footbath of dictators, Trujillo, Machado, 
and those whose faces had yellowed like posters 
on municipal walls. Now she stroked his hair 
until it turned white, but she would not understand 
that he wanted no other power but peace, 
that he wanted a revolution without any bloodshed, 
he wanted a history without any memory, 
streets without statues, 
and a geography without myth. He wanted no armies 
but those regiments of bananas, thick lances of cane, 
and he sobbed,'I am powerless, except for love.' 
She faded from him, because he could not kill; 
she shrunk to a bat that hung day and night 
in the back of his brain. He rose in his dream. 

 

Dreamwood by Adrienne Rich


Dreamwood

In the old, scratched, cheap wood of the typing stand
there is a landscape, veined, which only a child can see
or the child’s older self, a poet,
a woman dreaming when she should be typing
the last report of the day. If this were a map,
she thinks, a map laid down to memorize
because she might be walking it, it shows
ridge upon ridge fading into hazed desert
here and there a sign of aquifers
and one possible watering-hole. If this were a map
it would be the map of the last age of her life,
not a map of choices but a map of variations
on the one great choice. It would be the map by which
she could see the end of touristic choices,
of distances blued and purpled by romance,
by which she would recognize that poetry
isn’t revolution but a way of knowing
why it must come. If this cheap, mass-produced
wooden stand from the Brooklyn Union Gas Co.,
mass-produced yet durable, being here now,
is what it is yet a dream-map
so obdurate, so plain,
she thinks, the material and the dream can join
and that is the poem and that is the late report.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Surreptitious Kissing by Denis Johnson


Surreptitious Kissing
 
I want to say that
forgiveness keeps on 
 
dividing, that hope
gives issue to hope, 
 
and more, but of course I
am saying what is 
 
said when in this dark
hallway one encounters 
 
you, and paws and
assaults you—love 
 
affairs, fast lies—and you
say it back and we 
 
blunder deeper, as would
any pair of loosed 
 
marionettes, any couple
of cadavers cut lately 
 
from the scaffold,
in the secluded hallways 
 
of whatever is
holding us up now. 

 
 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dying for Dummies by Chana Bloch


Dying for Dummies
 
I used to study the bigger kids—
they’d show-and-tell me
how to wiggle my hips,
how to razz the boys.
 
Now I’m watching my cohort
master the skills at each grade
of incapacity
and get promoted to the next.
 
To the oldest I’m a novice.
 
“These seventy-five-year-olds,
they think they know everything,”
says Cousin Leo. He’s ninety.
 
Who thinks, Leo? Who knows?
 
We’re too busy reading “Gratitude”
and “Being Mortal,”
passing around the revised edition
of “Dying for Dummies,”
 
still trying to get it right.
And the young study us.

 
 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

America by Allen Ginsberg


America

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing. 
America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.   
I can’t stand my own mind. 
America when will we end the human war? 
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb. 
I don’t feel good don’t bother me. 
I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind. 
America when will you be angelic? 
When will you take off your clothes? 
When will you look at yourself through the grave? 
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites? 
America why are your libraries full of tears? 
America when will you send your eggs to India? 
I’m sick of your insane demands. 
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks? 
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.   
Your machinery is too much for me. 
You made me want to be a saint. 
There must be some other way to settle this argument.   
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.   
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?   
I’m trying to come to the point. 
I refuse to give up my obsession. 
America stop pushing I know what I’m doing. 
America the plum blossoms are falling. 
I haven’t read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for murder. 
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies. 
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I’m not sorry.   
I smoke marijuana every chance I get. 
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.   
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.   
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble. 
You should have seen me reading Marx. 
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right. 
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer. 
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations. 
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia. 
I’m addressing you. 
Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?   
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine. 
I read it every week. 
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.   
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library. 
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me.   
It occurs to me that I am America. 
I am talking to myself again. 
 
Asia is rising against me. 
I haven’t got a chinaman’s chance. 
I’d better consider my national resources. 
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals an unpublishable private literature that jetplanes 1400 miles an hour and twentyfive-thousand mental institutions. 
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underprivileged who live in my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns. 
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go. 
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I’m a Catholic. 
 
America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood? 
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his automobiles more so they’re all different sexes. 
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe 
America free Tom Mooney 
America save the Spanish Loyalists 
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die 
America I am the Scottsboro boys. 
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party was in 1835 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother Bloor the Silk-strikers’ Ewig-Weibliche made me cry I once saw the Yiddish orator Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have been a spy. 
America you don’t really want to go to war. 
America its them bad Russians. 
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.   
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take our cars from out our garages. 
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. Her wants our auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations. 
That no good. Ugh. Him make Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers. Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.   
America this is quite serious. 
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.   
America is this correct? 
I’d better get right down to the job. 
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway. 
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.  

 

America by Claude McKay


America
 
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness, 
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth, 
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess 
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth. 
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood, 
Giving me strength erect against her hate, 
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood. 
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state, 
I stand within her walls with not a shred 
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer. 
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead, 
And see her might and granite wonders there, 
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand, 
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Paradoxes and Oxymorons by John Ashbery


Paradoxes and Oxymorons

This poem is concerned with language on a very plain level. 
Look at it talking to you. You look out a window 
Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don’t have it. 
You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other. 

The poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and cannot. 
What’s a plain level? It is that and other things, 
Bringing a system of them into play. Play? 
Well, actually, yes, but I consider play to be 

A deeper outside thing, a dreamed role-pattern, 
As in the division of grace these long August days 
Without proof. Open-ended. And before you know 
It gets lost in the steam and chatter of typewriters. 

It has been played once more. I think you exist only 
To tease me into doing it, on your level, and then you aren’t there 
Or have adopted a different attitude. And the poem 
Has set me softly down beside you. The poem is you.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Excerpt from Citizen by Claudia Rankine


Excerpt from Citizen
 
/ 
 
You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there. 
 
You think maybe this is an experiment and you are being tested or retroactively insulted or you have done something that communicates this is an okay conversation to be having. 
 
Why do you feel okay saying this to me? You wish the light would turn red or a police siren would go off so you could slam on the brakes, slam into the car ahead of you, be propelled forward so quickly both your faces would suddenly be exposed to the wind.
 
As usual you drive straight through the moment with the expected backing off of what was previously said. It is not only that confrontation is headache producing; it is also that you have a destination that doesn’t include acting like this moment isn’t inhabitable, hasn’t happened before, and the before isn’t part of the now as the night darkens 
and the time shortens between where we are and where we are going.
 
/
When you arrive in your driveway and turn off the car, you remain behind the wheel another ten minutes. You fear the night is being locked in and coded on a cellular level and want time to function as a power wash. Sitting there staring at the closed garage door you are reminded that a friend once told you there exists a medical term — John Henryism — for people exposed to stresses stemming from racism. They achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the build up of erasure. Sherman James, the researcher who came up with the term, claimed the physiological costs were high. You hope by sitting in 
silence you are bucking the trend.
 
/
When the stranger asks, Why do you care? you just stand there staring at him. He has just referred to the boisterous teenagers in Starbucks as niggers. Hey, I am standing right here, you responded, not necessarily expecting him to turn to you.
 
He is holding the lidded paper cup in one hand and a small paper bag in the other. They are just being kids. Come on, no need to get all KKK on them, you say.
 
Now there you go, he responds.
 
The people around you have turned away from their screens. The teenagers are on pause. There I go? you ask, feeling irritation begin to rain down. Yes, and something about hearing yourself repeating this stranger’s accusation in a voice usually reserved for your partner makes you smile.
 
/
A man knocked over her son in the subway. You feel your own body wince. He’s okay, but the son of a bitch kept walking. She says she grabbed the stranger’s arm and told him to apologize: I told him to look at the boy and apologize. And yes, you want it to stop, you want the black child pushed to the ground to be seen, to be helped to his feet and be brushed off, not brushed off  by the person that did not see him, has never seen him, has perhaps never seen anyone who is not a reflection of himself.
 
The beautiful thing is that a group of men began to stand behind me like a fleet of  bodyguards, she says, like newly found uncles and brothers.
 
/
The new therapist specializes in trauma counseling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.
 
At the front door the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house. What are you doing in my yard?
 
It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by, oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.
 
I am so sorry, so, so sorry.

/
 
 

Mr. Grumpledump’s Song by Shel Siverstein


Mr. Grumpledump’s Song
 
Everything’s wrong,
Days are too long,
Sunshine’s too hot,
Wind is too strong.
Clouds are too fluffy,
Grass is too green,
Ground is too dusty,
Sheets are too clean.
Stars are too twinkly,
Moon is too high,
Water’s too drippy,
Sand is too dry.
Rocks are too heavy,
Feathers too light,
Kids are too noisy,
Shoes are too tight.
Folks are too happy,
Singin’ their songs.
Why can’t they see it?
Everything’s wrong! 

 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Oppenheim’s Cup and Saucer by Carol Ann Duffy


Oppenheim’s Cup and Saucer
 
She asked me to luncheon in fur. Far from
the loud laughter of men, our secret life stirred.
 
I remember her eyes, the slim rope of her spine.
This is your cup, she whispered, and this mine.
 
We drank the sweet hot liquid and talked dirty.
As she undressed me, her breasts were a mirror
 
and there were mirrors in the bed. She said Place
your legs around my neck, that's right. Yes.

 

The End by Mark Strand


The End

Not every man knows what he shall sing at the end,
Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like
When he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end,
Or what he shall hope for once it is clear that he’ll never go back.

When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat,
When the sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down
No longer appear, not every man knows what he’ll discover instead.
When the weight of the past leans against nothing, and the sky

Is no more than remembered light, and the stories of cirrus
And cumulus come to a close, and all the birds are suspended in flight,
Not every man knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing
When the ship he is on slips into darkness, there at the end.