Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Never Ever by Brenda Shaughnessey


Never Ever

Alarmed, today is a new dawn,
and that affair recurs daily like clockwork,

undone at dusk, when a new restaurant
emerges in the malnourished night.

We said it would be this way, once this became
the way it was. So in a way we were

waiting for it. I still haven’t eaten, says the cook
in the kitchen. A compliant complaint.

I never eat, says the slender diner. It’s slander,
and she’s scared, like a bully pushing

lettuce around. The cook can’t look, blind with hunger
and anger. I told a waiter to wait

for me and I haven’t seen him since. O it has been forty
minutes it has been forty years.

Late is a synonym for dead which is a euphemism
for ever. Ever is a double-edged word,

at once itself and its own opposite: always
and always some other time.

In the category of cleave, then. To cut and to cling to,
somewhat mournfully.

 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Patterns by Amy Lowell


Patterns

I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whale-bone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

And the splashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
“Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday sen’night.”
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
“Any answer, Madam,” said my footman.
“No,” l told him.
“See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer.”
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, “It shall be as you have said.”
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Drown by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

Drown
 
Yes, we drowned, then changed our minds,
           then drowned again,
           because we could,
 
because no one would know the difference—
 
           a leaf to its trembling
when it is no longer a leaf
but just a trembling.
 
           We were splashing against the current,
a zipper of palms opening and closing.
 
We were always too busy to notice
                      that everything we touched
           was a little bell that was a little famous.
 
The sun opened its curfew of music
           against my back with an exasperated sigh
           as I swam to shake the sounds
of your laughter off me.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Waiting for Icarus by Muriel Rukeyser


Waiting for Icarus

He said he would be back and we’d drink wine together
He said that everything would be better than before
He said we were on the edge of a new relation
He said he would never again cringe before his father
He said that he was going to invent full-time
He said he loved me that going into me
He said was going into the world and the sky
He said all the buckles were very firm
He said the wax was the best wax
He said Wait for me here on the beach
He said Just don’t cry

I remember the gulls and the waves
I remember the islands going dark on the sea
I remember the girls laughing
I remember they said he only wanted to get away from me
I remember mother saying : Inventors are like poets, a trashy lot
I remember she told me those who try out inventions are worse
I remember she added : Women who love such are the
Worst of all
I have been waiting all day, or perhaps longer.
I would have liked to try those wings myself.
It would have been better than this.

 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Plotted by Robert Lowell


Plotted

Planes arc like arrows through the highest sky,
ducks V the ducklings across a puckered pond;
Providence turns animals to things.
I roam from bookstore to bookstore browsing books,
I too maneuvered on a guiding string
as I execute my written plot.
I feel how Hamlet, stuck with the Revenge Play
his father wrote him, went scatological
under this clotted London sky.
Catlike on a paper parapet,
he declaimed the words his prompter fed him,
knowing convention called him forth to murder,
loss of free will and license of the stage.
Death’s not an event in life, it’s not lived through.

 

Rockabye by Carl Phillips


Rockabye

                      Weeping, he seemed more naked
than when he’d been naked—more, even, than when
we’d both been. Time to pitch your sorrifying
someplace else, I keep meaning to say to him, and then
keep not saying it. Lightning bugs, fireflies—hasn’t what
we called them made every difference. As when history
sometimes, given chance enough, in equal proportion
at once delivers
           and shrouds meaning . . . About love: a kind
of scaffolding, I used to say. Illumination seemed
a trick meant to make us think we’d seen a thing more
clearly, before it all went black. Why not let what’s broken
stay broken, sings the darkness, I
                                     make the darkness
sing it . . . Across the field birds fly like the storm-shook shadows
of themselves, and not like birds. Never mind. They’re flying.

 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Poem Without Forgiveness by Dean Young


Poem Without Forgiveness

The husband wants to be taken back
into the family after behaving terribly,
but nothing can be taken back,
not the leaves by the trees, the rain
by the clouds. You want to take back
the ugly thing you said, but some shrapnel
remains in the wound, some mud.
Night after night Tybalt’s stabbed 
so the lovers are ground in mechanical
aftermath. Think of the gunk that never
comes off the roasting pan, the goofs
of a diamond cutter. But wasn’t it 
electricity’s blunder into inert clay
that started this whole mess, the I-
echo in the head, a marriage begun
with a fender bender, a sneeze,
a mutation, a raid, an irrevocable
fuckup. So in the meantime: epoxy,
the dog barking at who knows what, 
signals mixed up like a dumped-out tray
of printer’s type. Some piece of you
stays in me and I’ll never give it back.
The heart hoards its thorns
just as the rose profligates.
Just because you’ve had enough
doesn’t mean you wanted too much.

 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

After All Have Gone by Mai Der Vang


After All Have Gone

I once carried my mollusk tune
All the way to the lottery of gods.

Rain was the old funeral choir
That keened of a hemisphere

Moored under lampwings.
Clouds never left. I knew

The lights would shine clearer
If I closed my eyes, just as

I knew the Pacific would teach
Me to sleep before tying my

Name to the flaming. Here I
Am now at the end of amethyst,

Drizzling another lost sunrise
Inside the quilt of your hand.

 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Genealogy by Adam Zagajewski


Genealogy
 
I’ll never know them,
those outmoded figures
—the same as we are,
yet completely different.
My imagination works to unlock
the mystery of their being,
it can’t wait for the release
of memory’s secret archives.

I see them in cramped classrooms,
in the small provincial towns
of the Hapsburgs’ unhappy empire.
Poplars twitch hysterically
outside the windows
while snow and rain dictate
their own orthography.

They grip a useless scrap of chalk
helplessly in their fists,
in fingers black with ink.
They labor to reveal the world’s mystery
to noisy, hungry children,
who only grow and scream.

My schoolmaster forebears fought
to calm an angry ocean
just like that mad artist
who rose above the waves
clutching his frail conductor’s wand.

I imagine the void
of their exhaustion, empty moments
through which I spy
their life’s core.

And I think that when I too
do my teaching,
they gaze in turn at me,

revising my mutterings,
correcting my mistakes

with the calm assurance of the dead.

(Translated by Clare Cavanagh)  

 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Seeing Things by Charles Simić


Seeing Things
 
I came here in my youth,
A wind toy on a string.
Saw a street in hell and one in paradise.
Saw a room with a light in it so ailing
It could’ve been leaning on a cane.
Saw an old man in a tailor shop
Kneel before a bride with pins between his lips.
Saw the President swear on the Bible
while snow fell around him.
Saw a pair of lovers kiss in an empty church
And a naked man run out of a building
waving a gun and sobbing.
Saw kids wearing Halloween masks
Jump from one roof to another at sunset.
Saw a van full of stray dogs look back at me.
Saw a homeless woman berating God
And a blind man with a guitar singing:
“Oh Lord remember me,
When these chains are broken set my body free.”

 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Ugly by Warsan Shire


Ugly

Your daughter is ugly.
She knows loss intimately,
carries whole cities in her belly.

As a child, relatives wouldn’t hold her.
She was splintered wood and sea water.
They said she reminded them of the war.

On her fifteenth birthday you taught her
how to tie her hair like rope
and smoke it over burning frankincense.

You made her gargle rosewater
and, while she coughed, said
macaanto girls like you shouldn’t smell
of lonely or empty.

You are her mother.
Why did you not warn her,
hold her like a rotting boat,
and tell her that men will not love her
if she is covered in continents,
if her teeth are small colonies,
if her stomach is an island
if her thighs are borders?

What man wants to lay down
and watch the world burn
in his bedroom?

Your daughter’s face is a small riot,
her hands are a civil war,
a refugee camp behind each ear,
a body littered with ugly things,

but God,
doesn’t she wear
the world well.

 

Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost


Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right. 
I have been one acquainted with the night.

 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Asking for Directions by Linda Gregg


Asking for Directions
 
We could have been mistaken for a married couple
riding on the train from Manhattan to Chicago
that last time we were together. I remember 
looking out the window and praising the beauty
of the ordinary: the in-between places, the world
with its back turned to us, the small neglected
stations of our history. I slept across your 
chest and stomach without asking permission
because they were the last hours. There was
a smell to the sheepskin lining of your new
Chinese vest that I didn't recognize. I felt
it deliberately. I woke early and asked you
to come with me for coffee. You said, sleep more,
and I said we only had one hour and you came. 
We didn't say much after that. In the station,
you took your things and handed me the vest,
then left as we had planned. So you would have 
ten minutes to meet your family and leave. 
I stood by the seat dazed by exhaustion
and the absoluteness of the end, so still I was
aware of myself breathing. I put on the vest
and my coat, got my bag and, turning, saw you
through the dirty window standing outside looking 
up at me. We looked at each other without any
expression at all. Invisible, unnoticed, still.
That moment is what I will tell of as proof
that you loved me permanently. After that I was
a woman alone carrying her bag, asking a worker
which direction to walk to find a taxi.  

 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Song by T. S. Eliot


Song

If space and time, as sages say,
    Are things which cannot be,
The fly that lives a single day
    Has lived as long as we.
But let us live while yet we may,
    While love and life are free,
For time is time, and runs away,
    Though sages disagree.

The flowers I sent thee when the dew
    Was trembling on the vine,
Were withered ere the wild bee flew
    To suck the eglantine.
But let us haste to pluck anew
    Nor mourn to see them pine,
And though the flowers of love be few
    Yet let them be divine.

 

Of Roots & Roamers by Ada Limón


Of Roots & Roamers 

Have you ever noticed how the trees
change from state to state? Not all
at once, of course, more like a weaver
gradually weaving in another color
until the old trees become scarce
and new trees offer a shaded kingdom
all their own. Before I knew the names
of towns or roads, I could recognize
places by the trees: Northern California’s
smooth-skinned madrone, looming eucalyptus,
fuzzy fragrant flowers of the acacia. So
much of America belongs to the trees.
Even when we can’t agree on much,
there’s still the man returning from his
late shift at the local bar, who takes
a long look at the bird’s nest in the maple,
pats the trunk like a friend’s forearm,
mumbles something about staying safe
and returns home. And the girl whose
slapdash tree fort we can see from our blurry
window, how she stands there to wave
at a world she does not even know
the half of yet. My grandmother once
complained she couldn’t see much
of America on her cross country trip because
it was all just trees. Ask her, she’ll laugh as she
tells you. Still, without the bother of licenses
or attention to a state line, a border, they
just grow where they’ve grown all their lives:
there, a small stand of white pine arrives,
there, a redwood begins to show itself along
the coastline, water oaks in the south, willows.
Their power is in not moving, so we must move
to them, point to each new tree to find out
where we have come from and where
we are going.

 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Poem for Trapped Things by John Wieners


A Poem for Trapped Things
 
This morning with a blue flame burning
this thing wings its way in.
Wind shakes the edges of its yellow being.
Gasping for breath.
Living for the instant.
Climbing up the black border of the window.
Why do you want out.
I sit in pain.
A red robe amid debris.
You bend and climb, extending antennae.
 
I know the butterfly is my soul
grown weak from battle.
 
A Giant fan on the back of
                            a beetle.
A caterpillar chrysalis that seeks
a new home apart from this room.
 
And will disappear from sight
at the pulling on invisible strings.
Yet so tenuous, so fine
       this thing is, I am
        sitting on the hard bed, we could
                 vanish from sight like the puff
                   off an invisible cigarette.
Furred chest, ragged silk under
           wings beating against the glass
 
           no one will open.
 
The blue diamonds on your back
are too beautiful to do
                       away with.
 
I watch you
           all morning
                        long.
With my hand over my mouth. 

 

Monday, February 12, 2018

In a Country by Larry Levis


In a Country

My love and I are inventing a country, which we
can already see taking shape, as if wheels were 
passing through yellow mud. But there is a prob-
lem: if we put a river in the country, it will thaw 
and begin flooding. If we put the river on the bor-
der, there will be trouble. If we forget about the 
river, there will be no way out. There is already a 
sky over that country, waiting for clouds or smoke. 
Birds have flown into it, too. Each evening more 
trees fill with their eyes, and what they see we can 
never erase. 

One day it was snowing heavily, and again we were 
lying in bed, watching our country: we could 
make out the wide river for the first time, blue and 
moving. We seemed to be getting closer; we saw 
our wheel tracks leading into it and curving out 
of sight behind us. It looked like the land we had 
left, some smoke in the distance, but I wasn’t sure. 
There were birds calling. The creaking of our 
wheels. And as we entered that country, it felt as if 
someone was touching our bare shoulders, lightly, 
for the last time.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Slouching Toward Beyoncé by Morgan Parker


Slouching Toward Beyoncé
 
Who reads her horoscope
in secret and bathes
her loose strings
in holy watercolor, cucumbers
over the temple. Her body
is like mine it is filled
with holes. It starts black
and stays   Black.
   I keep thinking
   the only city left
   is outer space
     where we lived
     before
   we had tongues.
Things don't fall
apart they find new homes.
Down here there's a thing
called skin   I keep mine clean.
There are things
called medication
and days.     They are hard
to believe. I am tired
so I wife myself.
   Down here
the boys are theoretical.
I shrink their hearts. I say spells because
I'm magic.  Fire
is another word for absolute
sunset on a high cliff.
I am never afraid to jump.
O Beyoncé  I love you
your fragments like a map.
I think I am addicted.
You soaked blue   you trouble
in my sight. The beast has come
at last:   hair of a cattail
and legs of a palm.
The truth like a bowl of seeds.
The secret album. Midnight.
O! Vessel of womanhood
I am loosed upon the world
with dust and filed nails.
All my life I turn water into wine.
This the hour I lower my shoulders.
My second coming: split
screen, clouds like orchid
   bulbs in the throat.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens


Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Among twenty snowy mountains,   
The only moving thing   
Was the eye of the blackbird.   

II 
I was of three minds,   
Like a tree   
In which there are three blackbirds.   

III 
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.   
It was a small part of the pantomime.   

IV 
A man and a woman   
Are one.   
A man and a woman and a blackbird   
Are one.   

I do not know which to prefer,   
The beauty of inflections   
Or the beauty of innuendoes,   
The blackbird whistling   
Or just after.   

VI 
Icicles filled the long window   
With barbaric glass.   
The shadow of the blackbird   
Crossed it, to and fro.   
The mood   
Traced in the shadow   
An indecipherable cause.   

VII 
O thin men of Haddam,   
Why do you imagine golden birds?   
Do you not see how the blackbird   
Walks around the feet   
Of the women about you?   

VIII 
I know noble accents   
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;   
But I know, too,   
That the blackbird is involved   
In what I know.   

IX 
When the blackbird flew out of sight,   
It marked the edge   
Of one of many circles.   

At the sight of blackbirds   
Flying in a green light,   
Even the bawds of euphony   
Would cry out sharply.   

XI 
He rode over Connecticut   
In a glass coach.   
Once, a fear pierced him,   
In that he mistook   
The shadow of his equipage   
For blackbirds.   

XII 
The river is moving.   
The blackbird must be flying.   

XIII 
It was evening all afternoon.   
It was snowing   
And it was going to snow.   
The blackbird sat   
In the cedar-limbs.

Friday, February 9, 2018

In the Waiting Room by Elizabeth Bishop


In the Waiting Room

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist’s appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist’s waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic  
(I could read) and carefully 
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson 
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
--“Long Pig," the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
—Aunt Consuelo’s voice—
not very loud or long.
I wasn’t at all surprised;
even then I knew she was 
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn’t.  What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I--we--were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918. 

I said to myself: three days
and you’ll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
—I couldn’t look any higher—
 at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen. 

Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities—
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts—
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How—I didn’t know any
word for it—how “unlikely”. . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn’t? 

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another. 

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth 
of February, 1918. 

 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Against Dying by Kaveh Akbar


Against Dying
 
if the body is just a parable 
about the body if breath 
is a leash to hold the mind 
then staying alive should be 
easier than it is most sick 
things become dead things 
at twenty-four my liver was
already covered in fatty
rot my mother filled a tiny
coffin with picture frames 
I spent the year drinking 
from test tubes weeping
wherever I went somehow
it happened wellness crept 
into me like a roach nibbling 
through an eardrum for 
a time the half minutes 
of fire in my brainstem 
made me want to pull out 
my spine but even those
have become bearable so 
how shall I live now
in the unexpected present
I spent so long in a lover’s
quarrel with my flesh
the peace seems over-
cautious too-polite I say
stop being cold or make
that blue bluer and it does
we speak to each other
in this code where every word
means obey I sit under 
a poplar tree with a thermos 
of chamomile feeling  
useless as an oath against 
dying I put a sugar cube 
on my tongue and 
swallow it like a pill 

 

The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams


The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon 

a red wheel
barrow 

glazed with rain
water 

beside the white
chickens.