Sin

The tree bore the efflorescence of October apples
like the bush that burned with fire and was not consumed.

The wind blew in cold sweet gusts,
and the burning taste of fresh snow came with the gradual dark

down through the goldenrod. The blue and scarlet sky
was gently losing its color,

as if from use.
The towers and telephone poles rose in the distance.

And a decline
of spirit, hearing, all senses; where the mind no longer rests,

dwells, intrigue; and Satan’s quick perspective of what lies
ahead,
was foretold by the springing back of a bough.

— We’ll never know the all of it: nature’s manifesto,
the sleight-of-hand in God’s light, the invisible,

visible, sinned against, absolved, no matter the enormity
of trying, and Eve’s help.

But come just before sunrise and see and taste again
the apple tree coming into fire

— shadow-glyphs on the crystallized grasses,
geese surging above the loblolly pine, the smell of sap —

as if willingly through its long life
it held on to one unclarified passion and grew and regretted
nothing.

—Carol Frost

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Published in: on June 8, 2010 at 3:40 PM  Comments (2)  
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In Memory of W B Yeats

The death of the  poet was kept from his poems.
—Auden
______________

Down by the Salley Gardens

Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;

She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.

She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;

But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.

In a field by the river my love and I did stand,

And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.

She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;

But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

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Published in: on June 8, 2010 at 11:26 AM  Leave a Comment  
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One Filament Against the Firmament

Most days Group V. practiced on seeing through

Prisms because of the way they bend the light

They are considered the first marker of advanced

Sight tests had been conducted on them all as

Children these ones could examine a dewdrop

Perched on a furred leaf & not cry when it fell to

The ground had no more data to give though later

The books would be buried to give us something new

To discover God could not be a matter of spaceships

The way must be found through the mind &

The eyes are distractible as the Leader discovered one night

In a stairwell when one lightbulb overhead managed

To distract him from the sky outside he decided

That finding beauty pointless might actually be the

Point at something & then see past it became

The first lesson to lessen attachment to things put

Here to distract us of course there were detractors

Who thought the fingers or tongue would work just

Fine lines of personality scar the fingertips though

& tastebuds cannot belie their bias only the mind

& the eyes could absorb indefinitely pupils practiced

Not shrinking at the sun it was an honor to go blind

Trying to ignore the tiny creatures that float across

Our eyes was a task that drove hundreds crazy because

It didn’t make sense that something tiny & see-through

Could lure the gaze away from the Taj Majal or a Monet

Which they practiced in front of because of the lovely

Colors & affection for them were eliminated later as were

All forms of luxury like being able to see your family

Across the breakfast table they all disappeared one by

One day everybody woke up alone & couldn’t find

Each other & they all would have died from standing

Still there was one girl who hadn’t been able to stop loving

The word marshmallow & one boy who still had a favorite

Color slowly seeped back into the world & a new group

Formed to research why it had left but it never became clear

Matthea Harvey


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Published in: on June 2, 2010 at 10:43 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Four Masks

The mask I see in the mirror:

A woman who has come to love silence,

who sees life through prisms, hexagonal

planes like the vision

of flying insects, so much color

breaking against reason. Thin

eyebrows. Nose off center.

The mask I wore for my mother:

Bright in the way of silk roses,

more than once it threw dinner

crashing to the floor and yet

was afraid to disobey.

At night it stood at the top of the long stairs

just to hear her talking.

The mask I swore my mother wore:

Small clouds like lace

on the brow. Eyepieces

I couldn’t see through.

Even her small shoulders

would make me cry. When she died

I saw her face.

The mask I passed on to my children:

Comes late for dinner

and leaves early, clears the dishes quickly.

This mask

is all relatives alive or dead,

drunk, sober, or beautiful. Oh God, yes,

at least beautiful.

Everyone at the table finds a window,

stares intently through.

—Cortney Davis

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Published in: on June 2, 2010 at 10:14 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Listeners

“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveler,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveler’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.
But no one descended to the Traveler;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his gray eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveler’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head —
“Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,” he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

—Walter De La Mare

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Published in: on May 20, 2010 at 10:09 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Filling Station


Oh, but it is dirty!
–this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it’s a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide
the only note of color–
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
ESSO–SO–SO–SO

to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

—Elizabeth Bishop

____________________

Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1911, but spent part of her childhood with her Canadian grandparents after her father’s death and mother’s hospitalization. Of her childhood she noted, “My relatives all felt so sorry for this child that they tried to do their very best. And I think they did. I lived with my grandparents in Nova Scotia, then with the ones in Worcester, in Massachusetts, very briefly and got terribly sick. This was when I was six and seven…. Then I lived with my mother’s older sister in Boston, she was devoted to me — she had no children. My relationship with my relatives — I was always sort of a guest, and I think I’ve always felt like that.”

Elizabeth Bishop won virtually every poetry prize in the country although she insisted, “They don’t mean too much.” Her first book, North & South, won the Houghton Mifflin Poetry Award for 1946. In 1955, she received the Pulitzer Prize for a volume containing North & South and A Cold Spring. Her next book of poetry, Questions of Travel (1965), won the National Book Award and was followed by The Complete Poems in 1969. Geography III (1976) received the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1976, Miss Bishop became both the first American and the first woman to win the Books Abroad/Neustadt Prize for Literature.

Elizabeth Bishop died on October 6, 1979. A new edition of her poems, The Complete Poems, 1927-1979, was published in early 1983, and The Collected Prose was published in 1984.

Of her work, Robert Lowell remarked, “Elizabeth Bishop is the contemporary poet that I admire most …. There’s a beautiful completeness to all of Bishop’s poetry. I don’t think anyone alive has a better eye than she had: The eye that sees things and the mind behind the eye that remembers.”

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Published in: on May 2, 2010 at 2:58 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Sonata

At ninety, the piano plays him.
He’s like a man by the sea
the wind knows it must wear down,
sculpt to a profile,
then fill out again,
billowing his sleeves and trouser legs
into a younger musculature.
Over and again, the music grays
then reddens, the part
in its hair shifting left to center
until those few blades of sea grass
are all that’s left to be
combed over the rocks,
and the thin fingers skitter,
leaving impressions in the keyboard
that waves wash level,
cleansing its audience of shell halves,
now glistening, now scoured dry.
And the house, the house just outside
this sonata’s frame,
begs him to turn around
to pick his way back
along the stony runner,
his hands stopping his ears.
But, at ninety, the music plays the piano,
which plays the man, who finally, fearlessly,
plays himself, which is the landscape,
which is everything that ends.

—Mark Cox

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Published in: on May 2, 2010 at 1:42 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Lament of the Irish Emigrant

I’m sittin’ on the stile, Mary,
Where we sat side by side
On a bright May mornin’ long ago,
When first you were my bride;
The corn was springin’ fresh and green,
And the lark sang loud and high;
And the red was on your lip, Mary,
And the love-light in your eye.

The place is little changed, Mary;
The day is bright as then;
The lark’s loud song is in my ear,
And the corn is green again;
But I miss the soft clasp of your hand,
And your breath, warm on my cheek;
And I still keep list’nin’ for the words
You nevermore will speak.

‘Tis but a step down yonder lane,
And the little church stands near,–
The church where we were wed, Mary;
I see the spire from here.
But the graveyard lies between, Mary,
And my step might break your rest,–
For I’ve laid you, darling, down to sleep,
With your baby on your breast.

I’m very lonely now, Mary,
For the poor make no new friends;
But, O, they love the better still
The few our Father sends!
And you were all I had, Mary,–
My blessin’ and my pride;
There’s nothing left to care for now,
Since my poor Mary died.

Yours was the good, brave heart, Mary,
That still kept hoping on,
When the trust in God had left my soul,
And my arm’s young strength was gone;
There was comfort ever on your lip,
And the kind look on your brow,–
I bless you, Mary, for that same,
Though you cannot hear me now.

I thank you for the patient smile
When your heart was fit to break,–
When the hunger pain was gnawin’ there,
And you hid it for my sake;
I bless you for the pleasant word,
When your heart was sad and sore,–
O, I’m thankful you are gone, Mary,
Where grief can’t reach you more!

I’m biddin’ you a long farewell,
My Mary–kind and true!
But I’ll not forget you, darling,
In the land I’m goin’ to;
They say there’s bread and work for all,
And the sun shines always there,–
But I’ll not forget old Ireland,
Were it fifty times as fair!

And often in those grand old woods
I’ll sit, and shut my eyes,
And my heart will travel back again
To the place where Mary lies;
And I’ll think I see the little stile
Where we sat side by side,
And the springin’ corn, and the bright May morn,
When first you were my bride.

—Lady Dufferin

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Published in: on April 30, 2010 at 11:39 AM  Comments (2)  
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Now

They waited for the music on the radio
to stop and it did, though somehow a few
seconds passed before they noticed,
much the way a day ends with a silvering
gone gray, darkness a hand on the shoulder,
a hug: it sits with you filling the room
with its silence. The message that followed
was meant to soothe as it shocked, like
the end of a fairy tale whispered
to a child at the edge of sleep: Now.
And even for them, enlisted to a duty
they were old enough to love, even they
felt the feather blows of a dream, that hush
of breath that arrives like a breeze
through a window, a dry kiss, the ghost
already closing the door behind him.
She retrieved the small pistol from its
velvet sack in the bread box. He
fit barrel to stock and oiled
his grandfather’s rifle. There was time,
though quickly, to lick each other’s
closed eyes, a ritual of sorts, his sweat
on her tongue, the bitter taste of mascara
across his gums, a cocaine freeze.
Offshore, beyond the breakwater,
the pirate station ended its broadcast
and released a single horn blast, as if
entering a slender bank of fog: a decorative
blast for a quickly passing vapor.
And what followed was the rumble
of a thousand shoes on concrete.
He paused to let the cat in as she filled its dish
an extra inch, enough for days or forever:
who knew? Simply put, the long wait was over.
And as they began to run with half the town
toward the harbor and the congregation site,
he saw the bright dome of the capitol
ignite with sunset, its copper tiles aflame.
And he remembered four children long ago
on the municipal beach, his brother’s foot bandaged
in strands of jelly fish, one sister screaming
as the other continued digging, her plastic pail
filled with wet sand to drip into spires. The horizon
had seemed a botched watercolor of sun
over sea, a stain of orange that made the sky
a tissue torn with fire. He had run
for his mother with a joyful panic, knowing
his mission was of mercy, his brother’s pain as vast
and distant as the execution of innocents
witnessed from afar, a television flickering
in a peaceful land. As now he ran with his wife,
the rifle easy in his arms, their pockets
jingling with keys and coins, skeletons,
quarters and dimes they would melt into bullets.

—James Harms

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James Harms was born in 1960 in Pasadena, California, where he lived for most of the first twenty-five years of his life. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Redlands then received an M.F.A. from Indiana University. He has taught at Denison University, East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania and West Virginia University, where he is currently Professor of English and director of the creative writing program.

His first book of poems, Modern Ocean, was published in 1992 by Carnegie Mellon University Press. He was awarded the PEN/Revson Fellowship for his second book, The Joy Addict, also published by Carnegie Mellon University Press (1998). A letterpress, limited edition book of poems, East of Avalon, was issued by Caddis Case Press in 2000, and a third full-length collection, Quarters, appeared in 2001 (Carnegie Mellon UP).

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 10:14 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Fields of Gold

You’ll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we walk in the fields of gold

So she took her love
For to gaze awhile
Upon the fields of barley
In his arms she fell as her hair came down
Among the fields of gold

Will you stay with me, will you be my love
Among the fields of barley
We’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we lie in the fields of gold

See the west wind move like a lover so
Upon the fields of barley
Feel her body rise when you kiss her mouth
Among the fields of gold
I never made promises lightly
And there have been some that I’ve broken
But I swear in the days still left
We’ll walk in the fields of gold
We’ll walk in the fields of gold

Many years have passed since those summer days
Among the fields of barley
See the children run as the sun goes down
Among the fields of gold
You’ll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You can tell the sun in his jealous sky
When we walked in the fields of gold
When we walked in the fields of gold
When we walked in the fields of gold

—Sting

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Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 2:53 PM  Comments (3)  
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What The Cleaning Lady Knows

Cleanliness is not and never has been next to godliness.

White carpets are hell.

You can get by without Comet, Spic and Span or lemon oil,
but Windex is mandatory.

Ammonia can cause pneumonia.

People who pay to have clean houses cleaned are lonely.

Children whose parents work full-time will fall in love with
you.

Rich people splatter diarrhea
on the inside rim of their toilet seats, just like the rest of
us.

Cleaning rags should always be washed separately with bleach.

Cash is better than checks.

—Ginger Andrews

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Ginger Andrews

Ginger Andrews was born in North Bend, Oregon in 1956. Her poems have recently appeared in The Hudson Review, Poetry, River Sedge,Fireweed, and The American Voice. In 1997, she received the Mary Schierman Award at the Coos Bay Writers Conference. She is the winner of the 1999 Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize from Story Line Press, which will publish her book An Honest Answer in the fall. She cleans houses for a living, and is a janitor and Sunday school teacher at North Bend Church of Christ.

______________________________
Image: Lucian Freud: Girl in a Dark Dress
Published in: on April 26, 2010 at 1:54 PM  Comments (2)  
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When My Car Broke Down

I was somewhere in Utah or Wyoming,
somewhere in the high inhuman deserts,
in the thin blue flame of wavering air,
bluffs of red earth scorched and

stratified on the horizon. I had stopped
to admire the desolation, to smoke
a cigarette and consider that ten thousand
years ago this was all under water,

that strange fish would have swum
through the space my eyes now occupied;
before that ice, and before that
something else again, unimaginably alien.

The Buddhists say first thought best thought,
but my first thought when I saw the steam
billowing up from under my car was:
if I just keep driving, maybe it will go away.

After all, I was moving three thousand miles
not to “escape” my problems but to put
a nice distance between them and me.
A problem has to be fierce to travel that far.

My second thought was to stare at the engine
for a while. I leaned over and looked
down into it as into the bowels of a ship
or the cranium of some fantastic beast.

And recalled how my father tried to teach me
about cars. Mostly he had me hold
the light for hours and mostly I studied
the back of his head, turning over the words

he said and knowing even then I’d never
understand. The blood would drain
from my arm and I’d prop it up
with my one free hand to keep from

caving in or betraying my halfheartedness.
Even then I was hopelessly afflicted
with the disease of the Wandering Mind.
Even then I was dreaming myself

across magical landscapes, just like this,
and learning all he had to teach me
about standing rooted to one spot,
wishing I were somewhere else.

—John Brehm

__________________________


John Brehm

John Brehm was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and educated at the University of Nebraska and Cornell University. He is the author of Sea of Faith, which won the 2004 Brittingham Prize and was published by The University of Wisconsin Press. In the Georgia Review, Judith Kitchen praised Sea of Faith for its “unified consistency of tone and sophistication of approach,” remarking that the “voice is urbane, humorous, and amused—distanced just enough to poke fun at the world and itself alike, to be able to see the ironies in every predicament.” Kitchen finds that Brehm’s poems give “voice to the complexities of being, handing us back to ourselves through the surety of his craft.”

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Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 4:42 PM  Comments (2)  
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Memories and Rain

Thinking About the Poet Larry Levis
One Afternoon in Late May

Rainy Saturday, Larry dead
almost three weeks now,
Rain starting to pool in the low spots
And creases along the drive.
Between showers, the saying goes,
Roses and rhododendron wax glint
Through dogwood and locust leaves,
Flesh-colored, flesh-destined, spring in false flower, good-bye.

The world was born when the devil yawned,
the legend goes,
And who’s to say it’s not true,
Color of flesh, some inner and hidden bloom of flesh.
Rain back again, then back off,
Sunlight suffused like a chest pain across the tree limbs.
God, the gathering night, assumes it.

We haven’t a clue as to what counts
In the secret landscape behind the landscape we look at here.
We just don’t know what matters,
May dull and death-distanced,
Sky half-lit and grackle-ganged —
It’s all the same dark, it’s all the same absence of dark.
Part of the rain has now fallen, the rest still to fall.

—Charles Wright

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Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 5:45 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Faucet

The sink is costing me precious
concentration. Poet      poet      poet
it mocks, mating call for a plumber.
My friends suggest I should write more
toward the impossible, around the unreal.
I tell them my theme’s America,
what’s the diff? Water’s expensive
and money’s supposed to trickle,
the national pastime’s a diamond
made of dirt. It’s difficult not
to write satire, an old spout spurted.
He’s right: bills pop up, sense flies out,
a pitcher’s catching the faucet’s fluent
language. I myself don’t spicket.

*  *  *

The plumber does, thank God,
know his pipes. Chit-chatting a little,
we try to jive our slippery jargons.
“Long as you’re here, could you snake
the commode?” I ask (with a blue-collar
coyness — I might’ve called it “the throne”).
By accent, I’d trace this plumber to Pittsburgh —
the way he says “toilet” (twirl-it), the way
he says “faucet” (force-it). He asks what I do
(my skin crawls) and I tell him, saying poetry’s
like his business: if the job’s done right,
you never need see the pipes — just know
they’re flowing. His look says I’m full
of shit. Twirl it, I think, don’t force it.

—Kevin McFadden

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Published in: on March 26, 2010 at 8:03 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Social Security

No one is safe. The streets are unsafe.
Even in the safety zones, it’s not safe.
Even safe sex is not safe.
Even things you lock in a safe
are not safe. Never deposit anything
in a safe-deposit box, because it
won’t be safe there. Nobody is safe
at home during baseball games anymore.

At night I go around in the dark
locking everything, returning
a few minutes later
to make sure I locked
everything. It’s not safe here.
It’s not safe and they know it.
People get hurt using safety pins.

It was not always this way.
Long ago, everyone felt safe. Aristotle
never felt danger. Herodotus felt danger
only when Xerxes was around. Young women
were afraid of wingèd dragons, but felt
relaxed otherwise. Timotheus, however,
was terrified of storms until he played
one on the flute. After that, everyone
was more afraid of him than of the violent
west wind, which was fine with Timotheus.
Euclid, full of music himself, believed only
that there was safety in numbers.

—Terence Winch

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Published in: on March 16, 2010 at 3:33 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Art History, Chicago

Paris Street, A Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte

It’s not so much a *Sunday Afternoon
on the Island of La Grande Jatte* as the point
of order according to Seurat —
that bits of light and color, oil paints
aligned in dots become the moment caught,
verbs slowed to a standstill, the life examined.
We step back wide-eyed for a better look:
an assemblage of Parisian suburbanites
in Sunday dress, top hats and parasols,
are there among the trees beside the river.
There are girls and women, men and dogs
in random attitudes of ease and leisure.
A stretch of beach, boats in the blue water,
a woman with a monkey on a leash,
a stiff man beside her, a mother and daughter,
that little faceless girl who seems to look at us.
And everyone is slightly overdressed except
for a boatman stretched out in the shade.
He smokes his pipe and waits for passengers.
But I have never been to Paris.
I’ve never holidayed beside the Seine
nor strolled with a French girl in the gray morning
as in this *Paris Street, A Rainy Day* —
Gustave Caillebotte’s earlier masterpiece
three galleries down in this collection.
So I do not know these cobblestones, this street,
this corner this couple seems intent on turning.
But I’ve walked with a woman arm in arm
holding an umbrella in a distant city,
and felt the moment quicken, yearning for
rainfall or a breeze off the river or
the glistening flesh of her body in water
the way this woman’s is about to be
that Degas has painted in *The Morning Bath*.
She rises from her bed, removes her camisole
and steps into the tub a hundred years ago.

History’s a list of lovers and cities,
a mention of the weather, names and dates
of meetings in libraries and museums
of walks by the sea, or through a city,
late luncheons, long conversations, memories
of what happened or what didn’t happen.
But art is the brush of a body on your body,
the permanent impression that the flesh
retains of courtesies turned intimate;
the image and likeness, the record kept
of figures emergent in oil or water
by the river, in the rain or in the bath
when, luminous with love and its approval,
that face, which you hardly ever see,
turns its welcome towards you yet again.

—Thomas Lynch

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Published in: on March 15, 2010 at 7:55 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love –
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me –
Yes! that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud one night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we –
Of many far wiser than we –
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling -my darling -my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea –
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

—Edgar Allan Poe

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Read by John Lithgow

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Published in: on March 10, 2010 at 11:54 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Snow Queen Explains

Hey, I didn’t start out like this.
I enjoyed corned beef sandwiches,
good vodka. It started with sparkle—
one broken splinter in my foot, another in my finger.

Then I lived so far South the only snow
I’d seen was the shedding of magnolia,
a petal coat of white on the ground so thick
you had to kick through it.

I didn’t notice how sounds had dampened,
how the summers with you became intolerable, sticky.
I lay in ice water baths, peeled off blankets,
nightgowns. You always complained
my hands were too cold anyway.

I moved North, started keeping pets with fur.
I enjoyed the way my new stilettos
pierced the fine layer of ice outside my door.
My Southern manners melted in the blank
face of so much snow.

A glassy film grew over my skin, perfecting.
My hair grew lighter without the touch
of sun. I built a palace from the remnants
of our life together—white car doors,
blocks of ice, mirrors, polished surfaces.

I dressed in white satin, white fox.
I carved swans in ice for company. After thirty,
I started wanting one boy after another—
Perhaps their girlfriends’ tiny fists bang
on my palace door. I cannot hear them.

I don’t think of you at all,
here, while my skin grows smoother
each year, while my hands and feet
become idols for the dead.

—Jeannine Hall Gailey

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Jeannine Hall Gailey was born at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, and grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has a B.S. in Biology and an M.A. in English from the University of Cincinnati, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Pacific University. Her first book of poetry, Becoming the Villainess, was published by Steel Toe Books in 2006. Poems from the book were featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and onVerse Daily; two were included in 2007’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She recently taught with the Young Artist Project at Centrum.  In 2007 she received a Washington State Artist Trust GAP Grant and a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize. She volunteers as an editorial consultant for Crab Creek Review, writes book reviews, and teaches at National University’s MFA Program.

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Published in: on March 10, 2010 at 10:58 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Beloved, Let Us Once More Praise The Rain

Beloved, let us once more praise the rain.
Let us discover some new alphabet,
For this, the often praised; and be ourselves,
The rain, the chickweed, and the burdock leaf,
The green-white privet flower, the spotted stone,
And all that welcomes the rain; the sparrow too,—
Who watches with a hard eye from seclusion,
Beneath the elm-tree bough, till rain is done.
There is an oriole who, upside down,
Hangs at his nest, and flicks an orange wing,—
Under a tree as dead and still as lead;
There is a single leaf, in all this heaven
Of leaves, which rain has loosened from its twig:
The stem breaks, and it falls, but it is caught
Upon a sister leaf, and thus she hangs;
There is an acorn cup, beside a mushroom
Which catches three drops from the stooping cloud.
The timid bee goes back to the hive; the fly
Under the broad leaf of the hollyhock
Perpends stupid with cold; the raindark snail
Surveys the wet world from a watery stone…
And still the syllables of water whisper:
The wheel of cloud whirs slowly: while we wait
In the dark room; and in your heart I find
One silver raindrop,—on a hawthorn leaf,—
Orion in a cobweb, and the World.

—Conrad Aiken

Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 10:15 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Musee des Beaux Arts

Fall of Icarus" by Breughel

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

—W H Auden

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Recited by Jodie Foster

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Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 11:49 PM  Leave a Comment  
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A Compass for the Mutant Rain Forest

Norte

Along the dense extremities of the forest north
that advance across the Panamanian isthmus,
ancient bridge for mustang, panther, and bear,
the trunks of towering andirobas intertwine
interminably in unfettered mahogany abandon.
Their barks are host to a protean foxfire that
radiates iconographic images in a flowing
expressionist relief of mythic proportions.
Travelers who venture this trek witness
these mutations and are soon transfixed.
Denied hopes coalesce, enrapture the weary.
Anguished women cradle the luminous souls
of dead babies and old friends half forgotten
in this swirling meccano of empires and loves.
The wasted alternatives of life are unveiled.
Though indios and neobiologists urge them
to flee the hypnotic force of such coercions,
these errant pilgrims prostrate themselves in
a mad chorus of wails and call the forest wall
Mural del Dios Verde, Mural of the Green God.

Sur

Along the avaricious trail of the forest south,
to the steep windswept cliffs of Patagonia
that rise ragged above rock-strewn beaches,
the emerald hunger stretches farther still
to taint the freezing waters off Cape Horn.
The winds that rake these seas now blow
from the north, warm, fragrant with pollen,
as if the forest could root on the icy cap.
Glassine flounder and neon frogs rain down
to pummel the decks of passing steamers.
But the gun-crack calving of melting bergs
and the slow thaw that extends the seas’ reach
expose no sure foothold for the forest to claim.
Even the shapeshifting woohli has yet to adapt
to the rough hibernal currents of this ocean.
The polar mariners who sail this route watch
the skies, cross themselves, shake their heads,
wonder if the next storm will be even stranger.
Beneath their breaths they curse the forest as
El Diluvio del Diablo, The Deluge of the Devil.

Este

Along the clawing tendrils of the forest east
that cloak the Amazon and its serpentine
tributaries—Madeira, Jacunda, Japurá—
once thriving passages for trade and travel,
only the most bestial of tribes now survive.
At dusk from the hills of Macapá and Belém
you can see the flicker of their campfires
against the gravid green of a dark horizon.
In less than a generation they have morphed
with the forest and are no longer human.
Forging a symbiosis with the force that
rules their world, some are viridescent,
mimicking the foliage that surrounds them.
Others, covered with bony plates, often
prey on all fours like porcine armadillos.
From Caracas in the North to the ramshackle
slums of Rio and São Paulo and Buenos Aires,
those who remain in the coastal enclaves call
the forest Creación Oscura, Dark Creation,
El Enfermo, Diseased One, Salvaje, Savage.

Oeste

Along the sweltering frontiers of the forest west,
striping the Andean foothills with wide shadows
and blanketing their no longer snowy heights,
the spikes of thousand-meter bromeliads sway
like the minarets of an organic metropolis.
The great reaches of flora that line these
slopes seem to roar in their rushing before
opening the cores of their inflorescence and
clasping entire settlements in a snap embrace.
A tenderizing mucilage bathes their spoils.
Those who flee this furious onslaught take
refuge in the lightless swamplands below and
return to pay homage, seeing these carnivorous
plants as rampant evolution running in reverse,
mankind succoring and serving the landscape.
The pathetic pageantry of their stark display
culminates in a sacramental sharing of pulcre,
an hallucinogen brewed from this succulent.
Stray revelers whisper the forest’s name as
La Bestia Caprichosa, The Capricious Beast.

Profundidades

In the impermeable fortress of the forest depths,
where each generation of growth destroys the last,
where each generation of fauna devours the last,
a sentience amoral and earthly dreams that the
only word for forest is el Mundo, the World.

—Bruce Boston and Robert Frazier

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Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 2:46 PM  Comments (2)  
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Love Calls Us To The Things Of This World

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

From all that is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessed day,
And cries,
“Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,

“Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult balance.”

—Richard Wilbur

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Recited by the Poet Richard Wilbur

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Published in: on March 4, 2010 at 10:09 PM  Comments (2)  
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Four Masks

The mask I see in the mirror:

A woman who has come to love silence,
who sees life through prisms, hexagonal
planes like the vision
of flying insects, so much color
breaking against reason. Thin
eyebrows. Nose off center.

The mask I wore for my mother:

Bright in the way of silk roses,
more than once it threw dinner
crashing to the floor and yet
was afraid to disobey.
At night it stood at the top of the long stairs
just to hear her talking.

The mask I swore my mother wore:

Small clouds like lace
on the brow. Eyepieces
I couldn’t see through.
Even her small shoulders
would make me cry. When she died
I saw her face.

The mask I passed on to my children:

Comes late for dinner
and leaves early, clears the dishes quickly.
This mask
is all relatives alive or dead,
drunk, sober, or beautiful. Oh God, yes,
at least beautiful.
Everyone at the table finds a window,
stares intently through.

—Cortney Davis

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Published in: on March 3, 2010 at 6:01 PM  Leave a Comment  
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War

Sometimes I have wanted to go to war.
The stories are always good — Thermopylae
Was good, the Gallic campaigns were as good
As you could get against barbarians,
The Crusades were outright inspirational.

Everyone ought to go off to a war
Before he is too old to have the good
Of it. The people we call pacifist
Forget (or never learned) the power of it,
The sense of godliness killing provides.

Who would not want to be an angel, high
Over the enemy’s cities with wings
Broad as the foreshadow of death? What boy
Cannot recall from his pitiless dreams
That carnage laid about him in his bed

Of adults and girls? War is for the young
And keeps them young; war is to make a man
Immortal; war is to subvert boredom
And all the dull authority of states.
Who favors war knows what liberty is.

Think about us. War would spare us the vice
Of guilt, the curse of inadequate love,
The remorse of aimlessness. War transforms;
It is a place to start from, props up pride,
Writes history. Out of war, art makes itself.

Sometimes I have wanted to go to war,
To turn flame in anyone’s heart. Old names
Dazzle me: Alexander, Genghis Khan,
Caesar, Napoleon — will any man
Shrink from riding such fame to his grave?

Are you the one gone soft now over peace?
Nonsense. Woman has always profited
From men at war. Since time began, if you
Camp-followed any conqueror, you too
Could count a hundred lovers on the sand.

—Robley Wilson

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Published in: on March 2, 2010 at 4:05 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Quick, Now, Always

We would like to linger here even longer,
especially when the sun lays gold
over lawns, some so white-fenced, idyllic, and sexy
they obsess us with what? — Ourselves? — That recurring
wilderness within? All night the rain
gently sucking leaves till morning. And here
are the flowers that put out our eyes. We should throw
our bodies onto the earth, just as we throw

them onto each other. Reyes and I walked long,
talking of love in a place with no people. We could feel
its absence burning within. First at twilight
in the cow boneyard. Then next morning
beside the birthing pen. The way the heifer licked
the wet calf up, then mooed

life into its bones. This, when nature is
only itself, when love is
sheer will. But still, the mother’s eyes bulging
toward the birth, and the mooing that goes down
into the glistening body, down into the soft hooves,
and down into the earth. This mooing
that goes on and on and will not stop, up to
the final sucking ass and carcass of death. This,

what we would, but lack. We choose instead
such sheer reprehensible and pansexual
delights, vogueing us beyond our shirted longing,
incomprehensible despite. Quiet fools we move
and are moved by movings until staring
through the glass eye of pleasure, we feel its palace

collapse. Oh how we long to feel that muscled
abandon for which there is no height,
an expanse whose taste is
salt, and whose hearing is all underwater,
all struggle, all breathing, one ocean, one
night. Everywhere now new leaves are ungluing, their green encased
with light. What we give changes us into something more
airy, something to last.

—Mark Irwin

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Published in: on February 27, 2010 at 11:39 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them,
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom —
A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

Mother whose heart hung humble as a
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

—Stephen Crane

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Published in: on February 26, 2010 at 4:58 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Little Porch at Night

Pull up a porch chair next to this chaise longue.
Tell me the empty dark will fill with voices
And talk to me before I end my song.

A summer night, and something has gone wrong
To rob the mild air of familiar faces.
Pull up a porch chair. Next to this chaise longue

A mother should be standing with her long
Hair tucked into a bun. Unwind those tresses
And talk to me before I end my song.

That vacant angle where a hammock hung
Adopts the whole moon in its loneliness.
Pull up a porch chair. Next to this chaise longue.

Summon the fireflies, matches struck and gone,
The Morse code of the stars who’ve lost their places,
And talk to me before I end my song,

For down there in the shallows should be strung
A taut line from a father to the sea he fishes.
Pull up a porch chair next to this chaise longue
And talk to me before I end my song.

—Gibbons Ruark

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Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 9:55 PM  Leave a Comment  
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A Second Nabokov Interview

Vladimir Nabokov—Lepidopterist

Nabokov’s interview, BBC Television [1962]

In mid-July, 1962, Peter Duval-Smith and Christopher Burstall came for a BBC television interview to Zermatt where I happened to be collecting that summer. The lepidoptera lived up to the occasion, so did the weather. My visitors and their crew had never paid much attention to those insects and I was touched and flattered by the childish wonderment with which they viewed the crowds of butterflies imbibing moisture on brookside mud at various spots of the mountain trail. Pictures were taken of the swarms that arose at my passage, and other hours of the day were devoted to the reproduction of the interview proper. It eventually appeared on the Bookstand program and was published in The Listener (November 22, 1962). I have mislaid the cards on which I had written my answers. I suspect that the published text was taken straight from the tape for it teems with inaccuracies. These I have tried to weed out ten years later but was forced to strike out a few sentences here and there when memory refused to restore the sense flawed by defective or improperly mended speech.

The poem I quote (with metrical accents added) will be found translated into English in Chapter Two of The Gift, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1963.

Would you ever go back to Russia?

I will never go back, for the simple reason that all the Russia I need is always with me: literature, language, and my own Russian childhood. I will never return. I will never surrender. And anyway, the grotesque shadow of a police state will not be dispelled in my lifetime. I don’t think they know my works there—oh, perhaps a number of readers exist there in my special secret service, but let us not forget that Russia has grown tremendously provincial during these forty years, apart from the fact that people there are told what to read, what to think. In America I’m happier than in any other country. It is in America that I found my best readers, minds that are closest to mine. I feel intellectually at home in America. It is a second home in the true sense of the word.

You’re a professional lepidopterist?

Yes, I’m interested in the classification, variation, evolution, structure, distribution, habits, of lepidoptera: this sounds very grand, but actually I’m an expert in only a very small group of butterflies. I have contributed several works on butterflies to the various scientific journals—but I want to repeat that my interest in butterflies is exclusively scientific.

Is there any connection with your writing?

There is in a general way, because I think that in a work of art there is a kind of merging between the two things, between the precision of poetry and the excitement of pure science.

In your new novel, Pale Fire, one of the characters says that reality is neither the subject nor the object of real art, which creates its own reality. What is that reality?

Reality is a very subjective affair. I can only define it as a kind of gradual accumulation of information; and as specialization. If we take a lily, for instance, or any other kind of natural object, a lily is more real to a naturalist than it is to an ordinary person. But it is still more real to a botanist. And yet another stage of reality is reached with that botanist who is a specialist in lilies. You can get nearer and nearer, so to speak, to reality; but you never get near enough because reality is an infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms, and hence unquenchable, unattainable. You can know more and more about one thing but you can never know everything about one thing: it’s hopeless. So that we live surrounded by more or less ghostly objects—that machine, there, for instance. It’s a complete ghost to me—I don’t understand a thing about it and, well, it’s a mystery to me, as much of a mystery as it would be to Lord Byron.

You say that reality is an intensely subjective matter, but in your books it seems to me that y ou seem to take an almost perverse delight in literary deception.

The fake move in a chess problem, the illusion of a solution or the conjuror’s magic: I used to be a little conjuror when I was a boy. I loved doing simple tricks—turning water into wine, that kind of thing; but I think I’m in good company because all art is deception and so is nature; all is deception in that good cheat, from the insect that mimics a leaf to the popular enticements of procreation. Do you know how poetry started? I always think that it started when a cave boy came running back to the cave, through the tall grass, shouting as he ran, “Wolf, wolf,” and there was no wolf. His baboon-like parents, great sticklers for the truth, gave him a hiding, no doubt, but poetry had been born—the tall story had been born in the tall grass.

You talk about games of deception, like chess and conjuring. Are you, in fact, fond of them yourself?

I am fond of chess but deception in chess, as in art, is only part of the game; it’s part of the combination, part of the delightful possibilities, illusions, vistas of thought, which can be false vistas, perhaps. I think a good combination should always contain a certain element of deception.

You spoke about conjuring in Russia, as a child, and one remembers that some of the most intense passages in a number of your books are concerned with the memories of your lost childhood. What is the importance of memory to you?

Memory is, really, in itself, a tool, one of the many tools that an artist uses; and some recollections, perhaps intellectual rather than emotional, are very brittle and sometimes apt to lose the flavor of reality when they are immersed by the novelist in his book, when they are given away to characters.

Do you mean that you lose the sense of a memory once you have written it down?

Sometimes, but that only refers to a certain type of intellectual memory. But, for instance—oh, I don’t know, the freshness of the flowers being arranged by the undergardener in the cool drawing-room of our country house, as I was running downstairs with my butterfly net on a summer day half a century ago: that kind of thing is absolutely permanent, immortal, it can never change, no matter how many times I farm it out to my characters, it is always there with me; there’s the red sand, the white garden bench, the black fir trees, everything, a permanent possession. I think it is all a matter of love: the more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is. I think it’s natural that I have a more passionate affection for my old memories, the memories of my childhood, than I have for later ones, so that Cambridge in England or Cambridge in New England is less vivid in my mind and in my self than some kind of nook in the park on our country estate in Russia.

Do you think that such an intense power of memory as yours has inhibited your desire to invent in your books?

No, I don’t think so.

The same sort of incident turns up again and again, sometimes in slightly different forms.

That depends on my characters.

Do you still feel Russian, in spite of so many years in America?

I do feel Russian and I think that my Russian works, the various novels and poems and short stories that I have written during these years, are a kind of tribute to Russia. And I might define them as the waves and ripples of the shock caused by the disappearance of the Russia of my childhood. And recently I have paid tribute to her in an English work on Pushkin.

Why are you so passionately concerned with Pushkin?

It started with a translation, a literal translation. T thought it was very difficult and the more difficult it was, the more exciting it seemed. So it’s not so much caring about Pushkin—I love him dearly of course, he is the greatest Russian poet, there is no doubt about that– but it was again the combination of the excitement of finding the right way of doing things and a certain approach to reality, to the reality of Pushkin, through my own translations. As a matter of fact I am very much concerned with things Russian and I have just finished revising a good translation of my novel, The Gift, which I wrote about thirty years ago. It is the longest, I think the best, and the most nostalgic of my Russian novels. It portrays the adventures, literary and romantic, of a young Russian expatriate in Berlin, in the twenties; but he’s not myself. I am very careful to keep my characters beyond the limits of my own identity. Only the background of the novel can be said to contain some biographical touches. And there is another thing about it that pleases me: probably my favorite Russian poem is one that I happened to give to my main character in that novel.

Written by yourself?

Which I wrote myself, of course; and now I’m wondering whether I might be able to recite it in Russian. Let me explain it: there are two persons involved, a boy and a girl, standing on a bridge above the reflected sunset, and there are swallows skimming by, and the boy turns to the girl and says to her, “Tell me, will you always remember that swallow?– not any kind of swallow, not those swallows, there, but that particular swallow that skimmed by?” And she says, “Of course I will,” and they both burst into tears.

Odnazhdy my pod-vecher oba

Stoyali na starom mostu.

Skazhi mne, sprosil ya, do groba

Zapomnish’ von lastochku tu?

I ty otvechala: eshchyo by!

I kak my zaplakali oba,

Kak vskriknula zhizn’ na letu!

Do zavtra, naveki, do groba,

Odnazhdy na starom mostu . . .

What language do you think in?

I don’t think in any language. I think in images. I don’t believe that people think in languages. They don’t move their lips when they think. It is only a certain type of illiterate person who moves his lips as he reads or ruminates. No, I think in images, and now and then a Russian phrase or an English phrase will form with the foam of the brainwave, but that’s about all.

You started writing in Russian and then you switched to English, didn’t you?

Yes, that was a very difficult kind of switch. My private tragedy, which cannot, indeed should not, be anybody’s concern, is that I had to abandon my natural language, my natural idiom, my rich, infinitely rich and docile Russian tongue, for a second-rate brand of English.

You have written a shelf of books in English as well as your books in Russian. And of them only Lolita is well known. Does it annoy you to be the Lolita man?

No, I wouldn’t say that, because Lolita is a special favorite of mine. It was my most difficult book– the book that treated of a theme which was so distant, so remote, from my own emotional life that it gave me a special pleasure to use my combinational talent to make it real.

Were you surprised at the wild success when it came?

I was surprised that the book was published at all.

Did you, in fact, have any doubts about whether Lolita ought to be printed, considering its subject matter?

No; after all, when you write a book you generally envisage its publication, in some far future. But I was pleased that the book was published.

What was the genesis of Lolita?

She was born a long time ago, it must have been in 1939, in Paris; the first little throb of Lolita went through me in Paris in ’39, or perhaps early in ’40, at a time when I was laid up with a fierce attack of intercostal neuralgia which is a very painful complaint—rather like the fabulous stitch in Adam’s side. As far as I can recall the first shiver of inspiration was somehow prompted in a rather mysterious way by a newspaper story, I think it was in Paris Soir, about an ape in the Paris Zoo, who after months of coaxing by scientists produced finally the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal, and this sketch, reproduced in the paper, showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage.

Did Humbert Humbert, the middle-aged seducer, have any original?

No. He’s a man I devised, a man with an obsession, and I think many of my characters have sudden obsessions, different kinds of obsessions; but he never existed. He did exist after I had written the book. While I was writing the book, here and there in a newspaper I would read all sorts of accounts about elderly gentlemen who pursued little girls: a kind of interesting coincidence but that’s about all.

Did Lolita herself have an original?

No, Lolita didn’t have any original. She was born in my own mind. She never existed. As a matter of fact, I don’t know little girls very well. When I consider this subject, I don’t think I know a single little girl. I’ve met them socially now and then, but Lolita is a figment of my imagination.

Why did you write Lolita?

It was an interesting thing to do. Why did I write any of my books, after all? For the sake of the pleasure, for the sake of the difficulty. I have no social purpose, no moral message; I’ve no general ideas to exploit, I just like composing riddles with elegant solutions.

How do you write? What are your methods?

I find now that index cards are really the best kind of paper that I can use for the purpose. I don’t write consecutively from the beginning to the next chapter and so on to the end. I just fill in the gaps of the picture, of this jigsaw puzzle which is quite clear in my mind, picking out a piece here and a piece there and filling out part of the sky and part of the landscape and part of the—I don’t know, the carousing hunters.

Another aspect of your not entirely usual consciousness is the extraordinary importance you attach to color.

Color. I think I was born a painter—really!—and up to my fourteenth year, perhaps, I used to spend most of the day drawing and painting and I was supposed to become a painter in due time. But I don’t think I had any real talent there. However, the sense of color, the love of color, I’ve had all my life: and also I have this rather freakish gift of seeing letters in color. It’s called color hearing. Perhaps one in a thousand has that. But I’m told by psychologists that most children have it, that later they lose that aptitude when they are told by stupid parents that it’s all nonsense, an A isn’t black, a B isn’t brown—now don’t be absurd.

What colors are your own initials, VN?

V is a kind of pale, transparent pink: I think it’s called, technically, quartz pink: this is one of the closest colors that I can connect with the V. And the N, on the other hand, is a greyish- yellowish oatmeal color. But a funny thing happens: my wife has this gift of seeing letters in color, too, but her colors are completely different. There are, perhaps, two or three letters where we coincide, but otherwise the colors are quite different. It turned out, we discovered one day, that my son, who was a little boy at the time—I think he was ten or eleven—sees letters in colors, too. Quite naturally he would say, “Oh, this isn’t that color, this is this color,” and so on. Then we asked him to list his colors and we discovered that in one case, one letter which he sees as purple, or perhaps mauve, is pink to me and blue to my wife. This is the letter M. So the combination of pink and blue makes lilac in his case. Which is as if genes were painting in aquarelle.

Whom do you write for? What audience?

I don’t think that an artist should bother about his audience. His best audience is the person he sees in his shaving mirror every morning. I think that the audience an artist imagines, when he imagines that kind of a thing, is a room filled with people wearing his own mask.

In your books there is an almost extravagant concern with masks and disguises: almost as if you were trying to hide yourself behind something, as if you’d lost yourself.

Oh, no. I think I’m always there; there’s no difficulty about that. Of course there is a certain type of critic who when reviewing a work of fiction keeps dotting all the i’s with the author’s head. Recently one anonymous clown, writing on Pale Fire in a New York book review, mistook all the declarations of my invented commentator in the book for my own. It is also true that some of my more responsible characters are given some of my own ideas. There is John Shade in Pale Fire, the poet. He does borrow some of my own opinions. There is one passage in his poem, which is part of the book, where he says something I think I can endorse. He says—let me quote it, if I can remember; yes, I think I can do it: “I loathe such things as jazz, the white-hosed moron torturing a black bull, rayed with red, abstractist bric-a-brac, primitivist folk masks, progressive schools, music in supermarkets, swimming pools, brutes, bores, class-conscious philistines, Freud, Marx, fake thinkers, puffed-up poets, frauds and sharks.” That’s how it goes.

It is obvious that neither John Shade nor his creator are very clubbable men.

I don’t belong to any club or group. I don’t fish, cook, dance, endorse books, sign books, co- sign declarations, eat oysters, get drunk, go to church, go to analysts, or take part in demonstrations.

It sometimes seems to me that in your novels—in Laughter in the Dark for instance—there is a strain of perversity amounting to cruelty.

I don’t know. Maybe. Some of my characters are, no doubt, pretty beastly, but I really don’t care, they are outside my inner self like the mournful monsters of a cathedral façade—demons placed there merely to show that they have been booted out. Actually, I’m a mild old gentleman who loathes cruelty.

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Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 3:31 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Modern Greek for “Nightmare” Is “Ephialtes”

I think, what brought you to this pass?
Heroes lie thick, anonymous,

Blurred with honorable mention
In mass graves of fine intention,

And yet even now dreams yield
On their unequal battlefield

Betrayal’s still familiar face,
The name that nothing can erase,

Not even final victory.
Sleep has no sense of history:

Even now I lose the day,
Always look the other way,

While old treachery awaits
The heart’s warm springs, its hot gates.

—A. E. Stallings

[Ephialtes: the Greek who betrayed the Spartans to the Persians at Thermopylae]

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Published in: on February 23, 2010 at 7:55 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Obscurity

My dream was of writing into the afternoon, free of constraint, cleansed
To a schist-like immediacy. It was after a sickness, slight but troublesome,
From which I had returned to the world with a new violence
To my ideas. Foremost among them was the decision
To write, to be writing, and the notion that writing’s separateness
Was needed. That to be alone was preferable; not simply
Away from people, but to dwell in a singleness,
To explore it from the inside, no matter how repetitive or dim,
With the seriousness and dedication of a child whose world
Opens exponentially from inside an old refrigerator carton.

My second idea was that one’s life, when viewed in this way,
Was still-life, sharing more with canvases of the old masters,
And their radiant stasis, as though a hand were reaching
For a silver goblet, and would, as soon as we took
Our eyes away, raise it to a set of lips just outside
The frame. I wanted to return to the parts of myself,
And place them carefully in meaningful light. I
Wanted this arrangement to be studied yet human, static
Though in full possession of time, with the resonance
Of an inner rightness which had little to do with expediency.

Lastly, and it is no mistake that all of this occurred to me
As trilogy, my afternoons and their consequences would be an arrival
Through formal application at structures which were closer
To music than to statement, but avoided the self-conscious obliquity of art-
Prose, and above all avoided its mimicry of ideals and jaded exclusivity;
That it was the formality of doing this thing which was redeeming,
Devotional, good. Destinations, like glades in a forest, seemed, above all,
Rhythmically determined, where light might enter and seep back,
Drawing us out from beneath darkened canopies, where we talk
To ourselves, cutting paths, or rest like Tarzan and Jane.

The clarity, which, the more I wrote, seemed to usher itself in
In waves, and cause the objects about me to implode with
Their own sense of self, would, I could see, be mistaken
For melancholy, or worse, the abstract and wistful tone
Of the neo-romantic, a nostalgia softened by distance,
Borne across meadow and copse like the sound
Of hunting horns. Yes, there was a danger. As in any endeavor
Which skirts the precious, one’s critics should be listened to,
And indeed a bit of their uninvested acumen held up
By the writer himself, like a match struck in a cave.

But the writer, I told myself, would not be hampered
By too many considerations beyond the immediacy
Of his own calculus. After all, the half-completed poem,
Like the tesselated patterns — half revealed — on the floors
Of those Roman villas, is a kind of reference
By which one’s movement through time is substantiated
And given not only weight, but also a sense of the fanciful;
The former to mark and perpetuate, the latter to encourage
And propel. For even the writer, as cleansed and critical
As he must become, would not do away with his gods.

Thus invested, he would make promises for the good of no-one.
For as the world hurled itself into war and starved its children,
He would concentrate on the shape and dimension of his own mortality,
See it stretched before him, ethically, like an afternoon.
I charged myself with giving back to what I saw as
“The pillaged,” namely, my own spirit, whose windows stood broken
And gaping like a bakery in a war zone. I saw this
As a kind of reinvestment whose morality hinged upon the implicit
Danger of the operation. This was the most excruciating form
Of selflessness, that which would reconstruct the self.

I would need an idea which could stress the casual dependence
Of things in their arrived-at contexts and nothing more.
But that would at the same time not bury them beneath
The churchish requisites of the poem as it has come down to us,
A history of sorrow. I am not speaking of the so-called
Attempt at naturalness. In fact if anything I would highlight
Artifice, allow it to draw its own lines, to segregate the writing
From all the more quotidian marshallings that cause the days
To bridge and furrow, toneless in their hours,
Secular in their terrible waiting for something to conclude.

There were practical considerations, not the least of which was
How to make a living. I thought of the money I would need
To sustain a type of research based as it is on an avoidance of the facts,
And always shy of results, a kind of dinner conversation without the food.
It was like getting to know your wife after a long day apart,
The ambivalence you feel at having to give up once again
The storied inwardness, the whole history of silence. I watched her
Lifting packages, lining the shelves with provisions, how patiently
She culled the dying greens from the scullery bins, and I was
Tempted to say: “Of course none of this is for me . . .” For truly it wasn’t.

In the room I chose the walls are as quiet as silk.
The pressed butterfly distracts me from time. To look at the image
Of ending in the fanned wings as delicate as powder beneath their glass,
Almost in flight above the black velvet bed as though clocking the night,
Reminds me of my search for an idea which might draw beneath it
All order of experience; it left me even more scattered
Than I already was, for it was too much like the wind
Searching for something lost in the forest. Now I am content
Finding myself in a certain weather, rain say, to measure
The fold of limb-light, as though the old symbols still pertained.

For sometimes there is a strain of music broken by distance,
As though it had risen out of a valley, and followed the flank
Of a stone-clad hill to where a tree, its sole audience,
Stands — on the tree’s typical Jericho — training all its branches to the task
Of assembling it anew. Though the melody is distorted,
Fragmented by the acid breeze and asphyxiated bird song,
The lumbering of heavy guns — the world as usual taking no
Notice of the tree’s difficulty — it thinks it can still follow
The line of the violin, as it dips, and weaves, courting the half-forgotten
Melody, as though tracing the crisp belly of a leaf, lost, though still dear.

Though it is never too soon to admit that such models
Of apprehension, thrown up, as it were, by the correlative force
Of nature belong already to an older way of perceiving,
And so can be of little practical use in our present endeavor.
They are like the suit of clothes given to the prisoner
Upon his return to the so-called polite world. Of dubious quality,
And ill-fitting, their effect is more to exaggerate a difference
Than to promote any blending. So as he buys his first pack
Of cigarettes and stands at the bar with his first glass, he is marked
For what he is. He stands alone amidst a flurry of whispers.

—Martin Earl

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Published in: on February 22, 2010 at 10:22 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Memoirs of a Primrose

Always the mornings
were miracles of delight
the soil moist with dew

Believing beauty
our destiny and purpose
gave us our great strength

Cast aside all care
Live in the eternal now
like Debbie Reynolds

Do not go gentle
But do not go rough either
Be like me: flower

Elegance so plain
cannot be vain. Elegance,
like dew, is just true

Flowers in a vase
or strewn in mad profusion
across a meadow. Choose

Green grow the rushes
Green grow my leaves and grew so
even as I bloomed

Happy the flower
whose petals spread to April light
Happiest in May

I have loved beauty
more than I have loved myself
But I love me too

June’s thirty days
are eternity enow
Then we pay the price

Kudzu, mildew, wilt
The problem of evil casts
its shadows here too

Life’s secret is this
Live often, live well, avoid
those who pick flowers

Mud: remember it?
Where we begin, where we wind up
unphotogenic

Notoriously
noir, in a black nightie, Night
rises from her bed

Open!     Open wide
as irises receiving
particles of light

Pink has its place:
pink for ingenues, for pansies
not for a primrose

Quoth Cicero
O tempora!     O mores!
How fashions do change

Red is my color
So bold and yet so proper
Revlon’s Primrose Red

Scarlet O’Hara
wore red to the ball.     I wear
red everyday

Tissanes of phospate
take me back to infancy’s
sunlit nursery

Uniflower Inc.
where we neither toll nor spin
all the live-long day

Venus in Virgo
My astrologer predicts
spring sempiternal

What is winter when
one can be in Palm Springs at
the drop of a leaf

Xylem and phloem still
— excruciating pleasure! —
shiver my petals

Yes, youth is precious
but not more so than having
roots in the real world

Zen is so primrose
A breeze, a briefness, a burst
of rain.     Then     Amen

—Tom Disch

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Published in: on February 21, 2010 at 10:11 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Channel

In time the fork my life took
as illness changed its course
will wander to the main stream
and there below the long waterfalls
and cataracts I will begin my rush
to the place I was going from the start.
I imagine looking back to see
the silted mass where a huge bend
holds sunlight in a net of evergreen
and the sky unable to bear its own
violet brilliance a moment longer.
Out of shadows where the channel
crumbles comes the raucous sound
a great blue heron makes when startled.
Scent of peppermint rides breezes
from the valley and I catch hints
of current beneath the surface
just as darkness unfurls.
There I imagine what was lost
coming together with what was gained
to pour itself at last into the sea.

—Floyd Skloot

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Published in: on February 19, 2010 at 9:34 PM  Comments (1)  
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The Light in Our Bodies

After supper the children go out to play.
It is a holy truth.
Notice I did not say, “After supper
we go out to play.”
We went out to play, as we walked

back and forth to school,
full of the light in our bodies —
which the adult world didn’t know
what to do with.
Having lost their own,
they became teachers or irrelevant

to us behind their newspapers.
My parents’ love
was as holy as hide-and-seek,
but I couldn’t play with it.
So I cleaned my plate and ran away,

and came to this place where every night
after supper, the children go outside….

—Dennis Trudell

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Published in: on February 17, 2010 at 3:05 PM  Leave a Comment  
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StarFather

Out of the debris of dying stars,
this rain of particles
that waters the waste with brightness…

The sea-wave of atoms hurrying home,
collapse of the giant,
unstable guest who cannot stay…

The sun’s heart reddens and expands,
his mighty aspiration is lasting,
as the shell of his substance
one day will be white with frost.

In the radiant field of Orion
great hordes of stars are forming,
just as we see every night,
fiery and faithful to the end.

Out of the cold and fleeing dust
that is never and always,
the silence and waste to come…

This arm, this hand,
my voice, your face, this love.

—John Haines

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Published in: on February 16, 2010 at 4:24 PM  Leave a Comment  
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A Fairly Sad Tale

Dorothy Parker

I think that I shall never know
Why I am thus, and I am so.
Around me, other girls inspire
In men the rush and roar of fire,
The sweet transparency of glass,
The tenderness of April grass,
The durability of granite;
But me- I don’t know how to plan it.
The lads I’ve met in Cupid’s deadlock
Were- shall we say?- born out of wedlock.
They broke my heart, they stilled my song,
And said they had to run along,
Explaining, so to sop my tears,
First came their parents or careers.
But ever does experience
Deny me wisdom, calm, and sense!
Though she’s a fool who seeks to capture
The twenty-first fine, careless rapture,
I must go on, till ends my rope,
Who from my birth was cursed with hope.
A heart in half is chaste, archaic;
But mine resembles a mosaic-
The thing’s become ridiculous!
Why am I so? Why am I thus?

—Dorothy Parker

_________

Read by the Poet Dorothy Parker

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Published in: on February 15, 2010 at 11:54 AM  Comments (1)  
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Folk Tale

After a traditional Japanese story

He knows she must have been a bird,
the same white crane he saved,
returned to flight. And now she has returned to him.
As wife. At night, he brings his face
near hers to watch the unexpected sheen,
white on white, her skin against the pillow.
And when she slowly combs her tangled morning hair,
her lifted arms seem to him like wings.
Once he found a feather on the stair.

Her husband is to her the sea.
He tastes of salt, his unwashed hair
a net that holds an ancient, briny catch.
In sleep, she breathes him deep.
And flies. Again she sees the coast,
sees the way the sun breaks waves
to shards of purple, gold, and rose.
She sees the squares of planted rice
serene beneath a muted glaze.
She finds a perch within the darkness of the trees.

They love their simple life, their house.
A flowering branch. A lacquered box.
Life comes to life when juxtaposed.
Each meal they share seems an emblem of the past.
A bit of rosy fish curls shyly on a tray.
A boiled custard in a plain white cup
nearly overflows like the moon’s white light
inside a narrow room. They drink their tea
in somber bowls, neither green nor gray.
Like two old friends, they tell each other tales,
but never once their own —
the startled hunter, wedded to his prey,
the wounded bird, would-be wife . . .

But should a traveler someday pass
beyond their gate, the scene he’d see
could bring to mind a half-remembered song,
could bring to mind a Master’s inky wash
wherein a single tree, a stone, a stream
find a home within an emptiness.
The painting’s untold story feels like home.

—Margaret MacKinnon

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Published in: on February 14, 2010 at 6:13 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Toomey’s Diner

Sundays at dawn were whispers and silent
pissing on the inside of the privy bowl.
If belt buckles merely clicked, zippers
crept shut, and the heels of heavy shoes
only thudded together muffled in our hands,
mother slept on as we crept out the door.

Sunday mornings my face seemed to melt
in ripples of chrome circling high stools
at the bar of Toomey’s Diner. The air
inside was thick with breath and smokes
as I spun between my father and brother
waiting for our *flapjacks all around*.
I saw the soles of my feet turned upside
down in the stools’ silvery pedestals
and knew enough to spin without a squeak.

So this was the world outside. Red leather
to sit on, red formica edged in chrome
where my elbows fit, red menus studded
with paper clips. Signs said Special Today.
This was the stuff of weekday dreams. A small
jukebox at every table, rice to keep
the salt dry, toothpicks, a great pyramid
of cereal boxes hiding the cook.
Sunday was sizzling grease and apple juice
glowing pink, then blue in the sudden shift
of neon. Sunday laughter gave off such
heat that walls burst with sweat.

When the day came apart, I always had
the relative silence of knives and forks
on plates, the delicate lids of syrup holders
snapping shut, coffee slurped from steaming mugs,
coins on the counter, the sound of our bill
skewered by Toomey as we turned to leave.

—Floyd Skloot

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Published in: on February 13, 2010 at 12:55 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Summer Rain

My books I’d fain cast off, I cannot read,
‘Twixt every page my thoughts go stray at large
Down in the meadow, where is richer feed,
And will not mind to hit their proper targe.

Plutarch was good, and so was Homer too,
Our Shakespeare’s life were rich to live again,
What Plutarch read, that was not good nor true,
Nor Shakespeare’s books, unless his books were men.

Here while I lie beneath this walnut bough,
What care I for the Greeks or for Troy town,
If juster battles are enacted now
Between the ants upon this hummock’s crown?

Bid Homer wait till I the issue learn,
If red or black the gods will favor most,
Or yonder Ajax will the phalanx turn,
Struggling to heave some rock against the host.

Tell Shakespeare to attend some leisure hour,
For now I’ve business with this drop of dew,
And see you not, the clouds prepare a shower—
I’ll meet him shortly when the sky is blue.

This bed of herd’s grass and wild oats was spread
Last year with nicer skill than monarchs use.
A clover tuft is pillow for my head,
And violets quite overtop my shoes.

And now the cordial clouds have shut all in,
And gently swells the wind to say all’s well;
The scattered drops are falling fast and thin,
Some in the pool, some in the flower-bell.

I am well drenched upon my bed of oats;
But see that globe come rolling down its stem,
Now like a lonely planet there it floats,
And now it sinks into my garment’s hem.

Drip drip the trees for all the country round,
And richness rare distills from every bough;
The wind alone it is makes every sound,
Shaking down crystals on the leaves below.

For shame the sun will never show himself,
Who could not with his beams e’er melt me so;
My dripping locks–they would become an elf,
Who in a beaded coat does gayly go.

—Henry David Thoreau

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Published in: on February 12, 2010 at 1:42 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Country Summer

Now the rich cherry, whose sleek wood,
And top with silver petals traced
Like a strict box its gems encased,
Has spilt from out that cunning lid,
All in an innocent green round,
Those melting rubies which it hid;
With moss ripe-strawberry-encrusted,
So birds get half, and minds lapse merry
To taste that deep-red, lark’s-bite berry,
And blackcap bloom is yellow-dusted.

The wren that thieved it in the eaves
A trailer of the rose could catch
To her poor droopy sloven thatch,
And side by side with the wren’s brood—
O lovely time of beggar’s luck—
Opens the quaint and hairy bud;
And full and golden is the yield
Of cows that never have to house,
But all night nibble under boughs,
Or cool their sides in the moist field.

Into the rooms flow meadow airs,
The warm farm baking smell’s blown round.
Inside and out, and sky and ground
Are much the same; the wishing star,
Hesperus, kind and early born,
Is risen only finger-far;
All stars stand close in summer air,
And tremble, and look mild as amber;
When wicks are lighted in the chamber,
They are like stars which settled there.

Now straightening from the flowery hay,
Down the still light the mowers look,
Or turn, because their dreaming shook,
And they waked half to other days,
When left alone in the yellow stubble
The rusty-coated mare would graze.
Yet thick the lazy dreams are born,
Another thought can come to mind,
But like the shivering of the wind,
Morning and evening in the corn.

—Léonie Adams

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Published in: on February 11, 2010 at 3:39 PM  Comments (3)  
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Correspondences

In Nature’s temple living pillars rise,
And words are murmured none have understood,
And man must wander through a tangled wood
Of symbols watching him with friendly eyes.

As long-drawn echoes heard far-off and dim
Mingle to one deep sound and fade away;
Vast as the night and brilliant as the day,
Colour and sound and perfume speak to him.

Some perfumes are as fragrant as a child,
Sweet as the sound of hautboys, meadow-green;
Others, corrupted, rich, exultant, wild,

Have all the expansion of things infinite:
As amber, incense, musk, and benzoin,
Which sing the sense’s and the soul’s delight.

—Charles Baudelaire

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Published in: on February 10, 2010 at 11:31 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Letter

What is she writing? Watch her now,
How fast her fingers move !
How eagerly her youthful brow
Is bent in thought above !
Her long curls, drooping, shade the light,
She puts them quick aside,
Nor knows, that band of crystals bright,
Her hasty touch untied.
It slips adown her silken dress,
Falls glittering at her feet;
Unmarked it falls, for she no less
Pursues her labour sweet.

The very loveliest hour that shines,
Is in that deep blue sky;
The golden sun of June declines,
It has not caught her eye.
The cheerful lawn, and unclosed gate,
The white road, far away,
In vain for her light footsteps wait,
She comes not forth to-day.
There is an open door of glass
Close by that lady’s chair,
From thence, to slopes of mossy grass,
Descends a marble stair.

Tall plants of bright and spicy bloom
Around the threshold grow;
Their leaves and blossoms shade the room,
From that sun’s deepening glow.
Why does she not a moment glance
Between the clustering flowers,
And mark in heaven the radiant dance
Of evening’s rosy hours ?
O look again ! Still fixed her eye,
Unsmiling, earnest, still,
And fast her pen and fingers fly,
Urged by her eager will.

Her soul is in th’ absorbing task;
To whom, then, doth she write ?
Nay, watch her still more closely, ask
Her own eyes’ serious light;
Where do they turn, as now her pen
Hangs o’er th’ unfinished line ?
Whence fell the tearful gleam that then
Did in their dark spheres shine ?
The summer-parlour looks so dark,
When from that sky you turn,
And from th’ expanse of that green park,
You scarce may aught discern.

Yet o’er the piles of porcelain rare,
O’er flower-stand, couch, and vase,
Sloped, as if leaning on the air,
One picture meets the gaze.
‘Tis there she turns; you may not see
Distinct, what form defines
The clouded mass of mystery
Yon broad gold frame confines.
But look again; inured to shade
Your eyes now faintly trace
A stalwart form, a massive head,
A firm, determined face.

Black Spanish locks, a sunburnt cheek,
A brow high, broad, and white,
Where every furrow seems to speak
Of mind and moral might.
Is that her god ? I cannot tell;
Her eye a moment met
Th’ impending picture, then it fell
Darkened and dimmed and wet.
A moment more, her task is done,
And sealed the letter lies;
And now, towards the setting sun
She turns her tearful eyes.

Those tears flow over, wonder not,
For by the inscription, see
In what a strange and distant spot
Her heart of hearts must be !
Three seas and many a league of land
That letter must pass o’er,
E’er read by him to whose loved hand
‘Tis sent from England’s shore.
Remote colonial wilds detain
Her husband, loved though stern;
She, ‘mid that smiling English scene,
Weeps for his wished return.

—Charlotte Brontë

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Published in: on February 10, 2010 at 6:39 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Tombstones in the Starlight

I. The Minor Poet

His little trills and chirpings were his best.
No music like the nightingale’s was born
Within his throat; but he, too, laid his breast
Upon a thorn.

II. The Pretty Lady

She hated bleak and wintry things alone.
All that was warm and quick, she loved too well-
A light, a flame, a heart against her own;
It is forever bitter cold, in Hell.

III. The Very Rich Man

He’d have the best, and that was none too good;
No barrier could hold, before his terms.
He lies below, correct in cypress wood,
And entertains the most exclusive worms.

IV. The Fisherwoman

The man she had was kind and clean
And well enough for every day,
But, oh, dear friends, you should have seen
The one that got away!

V. The Crusader

Arrived in Heaven, when his sands were run,
He seized a quill, and sat him down to tell
The local press that something should be done
About that noisy nuisance, Gabriel.

VI. The Actress

Her name, cut clear upon this marble cross,
Shines, as it shone when she was still on earth;
While tenderly the mild, agreeable moss
Obscures the figures of her date of birth.

—Dorothy Parker

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Recited by the Poet Dorothy Parker

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Published in: on February 9, 2010 at 6:22 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Siren

In your think tank you’re Olympia,
all languid length and skin and two red roses
budding in the suds; or you’re unhappy, a
sea fury frozen in your fountain poses.
And then a fine rime settles on the water,
hides you almost, Susannah, soaped to gleaming,
but wise from birth to what the elders taught her,
that though the tongue be stone the spirit’s scheming
heat and action, craves to be
swimming with you into infinity —
as on those evenings when I hear you run
your bath and put your hair up in a bun
and sigh, and sink into your second home,
and then you call me from the other room.

—Jonathan Galassi

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Published in: on February 9, 2010 at 1:00 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Light?

As a child I loved the smoke because it adored him, clung
to, stroked his face, filled the Valiant with an animal
made of endless shapes. And the packs themselves, smell
of tobacco new, unlit, the music Raleigh, Chesterfield,
Lark, ashtrays shaped as buddhas, crowns and spaceships.
The cough was always there, his second voice, and when
wasn’t someone asking him to stop, my mother, then me,
then doctors holding his clubbed fingers, explaining
a man shouldn’t pass out getting dressed. The smoke clung,
became his skin. When asked what I wanted done I said
burn him, make him ash: my revenge: his only wish.

—Bob Hicok

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From Radical Neck
Published in: on February 7, 2010 at 10:55 PM  Leave a Comment  
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A Claim

Even through the days as a believer
doubt would shadow the distant light
over the valley deep in itself
the voices that rang clear of it
never lingered
and long before I left
I had already gone

each time I turned away
it all stepped into that water
where it would seem to be the same
almost the same
and the heart would sink at the sight of it
without knowing why
the same heart come again
once more expecting nothing
and caught by what was never there

—W. S. Merwin

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Published in: on February 6, 2010 at 4:08 PM  Comments (2)  
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Rusted Legacy

Imagine a city where nothing’s
forgiven    your deed adheres
to you like a scar, a tattoo    but almost everything’s
forgotten    deer flattened leaping a highway for food
the precise reason for the shaving of the confused girl’s head
the small boys’ punishing of the frogs
— a city memory-starved but intent on retributions
Imagine the architecture    the governance
the men and the women in power
— tell me if it is not true you still
live in that city.

Imagine a city partitioned    divorced from its hills
where temples and telescopes used to probe the stormy codices
a city brailling through fog
thicket and twisted wire
into dark’s velvet dialectic
sewers which are also rivers
art’s unchartered aquifers    the springhead
sprung open in civic gardens left unlocked at night
I finger the glass beads I strung and wore
under the pines while the arrests were going on
(transfixed from neck to groin I wanted to save what I could)
They brought trays with little glasses of cold water
into the dark park    a final village gesture
before the villages were gutted.
They were trying to save what they could
— tell me if this is not the same city.

I have forced myself to come back like a daughter
required to put her mother’s house in order
whose hands need terrible gloves to handle
the medicinals    the disease packed in those linens
Accomplished criminal I’ve been but
can I accomplish justice here? Tear the old wedding sheet
into cleaning rags? Faithless daughter
like stone    but with water pleating across
Let water be water let stone be stone
Tell me is this the same city.

This I — must she, must she lie scabbed with rust
crammed with memory in a place
of little anecdotes    no one left
to go around gathering the full dissident story?
Rusting her hands and shoulders stone her lips
yet leaching down from her eyesockets tears
— for one self only? each encysts a city.

1997

—Adrienne Rich

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Published in: on February 6, 2010 at 11:54 AM  Leave a Comment  
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For My Lover, Returning To His Wife

She is all there.
She was melted carefully down for you
and cast up from your childhood,
cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.

She has always been there, my darling.
She is, in fact, exquisite.
Fireworks in the dull middle of February
and as real as a cast-iron pot.

Let’s face it, I have been momentary.
vA luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor.
My hair rising like smoke from the car window.
Littleneck clams out of season.

She is more than that. She is your have to have,
has grown you your practical your tropical growth.
This is not an experiment. She is all harmony.
She sees to oars and oarlocks for the dinghy,

has placed wild flowers at the window at breakfast,
sat by the potter’s wheel at midday,
set forth three children under the moon,
three cherubs drawn by Michelangelo,

done this with her legs spread out
in the terrible months in the chapel.
If you glance up, the children are there
like delicate balloons resting on the ceiling.

She has also carried each one down the hall
after supper, their heads privately bent,
two legs protesting, person to person,
her face flushed with a song and their little sleep.

I give you back your heart.
I give you permission—

for the fuse inside her, throbbing
angrily in the dirt, for the bitch in her
and the burying of her wound—
for the burying of her small red wound alive—

for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,
for the drunken sailor who waits in her left pulse,
for the mother’s knee, for the stocking,
for the garter belt, for the call—

the curious call
when you will burrow in arms and breasts
and tug at the orange ribbon in her hair
and answer the call, the curious call.

She is so naked and singular
She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.

As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.

—Anne Sexton

Recited by the Poet Anne Sexton

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Sexton, Anne (1928–74), major American poet, whose book Transformations (1971) was one of the most significant ‘subversive’ adaptations of the Grimms’ tales from a woman’s perspective.

Sexton was born Anne Grey Harvey into an upper‐middle‐class family in Newton, Massachusetts; after attending a Boston finishing school, she eloped with Alfred Muller Sexton and worked for a time as a model.

In the early 1950s, during which time she gave birth to her two daughters, she had a series of mental breakdowns and was advised by her psychiatrist, Dr Martin Orne, to write poetry as a form of therapy. Consequently, Sexton began taking courses in John Holme’s poetry workshop at the Boston Center for Adult Education, and her talent was immediately recognized. She received a scholarship in 1958 to the Antioch Writers’ Conference, and later that year she was accepted into Robert Lowell’s graduate writing seminar at Boston University, where she met and became friends with Sylvia Plath, Maxine Kumin, and George Starbuck.

In 1960 she published her first important collection of poetry, To Bedlam and Part Way Back, and she also began teaching poetry at Harvard and Radcliffe. Throughout the 1960s Sexton won numerous prizes and published several collections of poetry, but she also suffered from severe depressions, attempted suicide, and was hospitalized on occasion.

She won the Pulitzer Prize for Live or Die in 1967, and she taught at Boston University, worked at the American Place Theatre, and conducted poetry workshops in her home. However, she continued to feel disturbed and tried to commit suicide again in 1970, the year before she published Transformations, which was performed in an operatic adaptation in Minneapolis in 1973. This was also the year in which she divorced her husband and was hospitalized at the McLean’s Hospital. The following year she took her life in the garage of her home by carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Image by Edward Hopper
Published in: on February 4, 2010 at 7:54 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Boy in the Rain

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept

—W H Auden

FROM The Shield of Achilles

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Published in: on February 4, 2010 at 6:45 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Bengal the Eternal

FROM Glimpses of Bengal by Rabindranath Tagore

SHELIDAH

24th June 1894

I have been only four days here, but, having lost count of the hours, it seems such a long while, I feel that if I were to return to Calcutta to-day I should find much of it changed—as if I alone had been standing still outside the current of time, unconscious of the gradually changing position of the rest of the world.

The fact is that here, away from Calcutta, I live in my own inner world, where the clocks do not keep ordinary time; where duration is measured only by the intensity of the feelings; where, as the outside world does not count the minutes, moments change into hours and hours into moments. So it seems to me that the subdivisions of time and space are only mental illusions. Every atom is immeasurable and every moment infinite.

There is a Persian story which I was greatly taken with when I read it as a boy—I think I understood, even then, something of the underlying idea, though I was a mere child. To show the illusory character of time, a faquir put some magic water into a tub and asked the King to take a dip. The King no sooner dipped his head in than he found himself in a strange country by the sea, where he spent a good long time going through a variety of happenings and doings. He married, had children, his wife and children died, he lost all his wealth, and as he writhed under his sufferings he suddenly found himself back in the room, surrounded by his courtiers. On his proceeding to revile the faquir for his misfortunes, they said: “But, Sire, you have only just dipped your head in, and raised it out of the water!”

The whole of our life with its pleasures and pains is in the same way enclosed in one moment of time. However long or intense we may feel it to be while it lasts, as soon as we have finished our dip in the tub of the world, we shall find how like a slight, momentary dream the whole thing has been….

SHELIDAH,

9th August 1894.

I saw a dead bird floating down the current to-day. The history of its death may easily be divined. It had a nest in some mango tree at the edge of a village. It returned home in the evening, nestling there against soft-feathered companions, and resting a wearied little body in sleep. All of a sudden, in the night, the mighty Padma tossed slightly in her bed, and the earth was swept away from the roots of the mango tree. The little creature bereft of its nest awoke just for a moment before it went to sleep again for ever.

When I am in the presence of the awful mystery of all-destructive Nature, the difference between myself and the other living things seems trivial. In town, human society is to the fore and looms large; it is cruelly callous to the happiness and misery of other creatures as compared with its own.

In Europe, also, man is so complex and so dominant, that the animal is too merely an animal to him. To Indians the idea of the transmigration of the soul from animal to man, and man to animal, does not seem strange, and so from our scriptures pity for all sentient creatures has not been banished as a sentimental exaggeration.

When I am in close touch with Nature in the country, the Indian in me asserts itself and I cannot remain coldly indifferent to the abounding joy of life throbbing within the soft down-covered breast of a single tiny bird.

SHELIDAH,

10th August 1894.

Last night a rushing sound in the water awoke me—a sudden boisterous disturbance of the river current—probably the onslaught of a freshet: a thing that often happens at this season. One’s feet on the planking of the boat become aware of a variety of forces at work beneath it. Slight tremors, little rockings, gentle heaves, and sudden jerks, all keep me in touch with the pulse of the flowing stream.

There must have been some sudden excitement in the night, which sent the current racing away. I rose and sat by the window. A hazy kind of light made the turbulent river look madder than ever. The sky was spotted with clouds. The reflection of a great big star quivered on the waters in a long streak, like a burning gash of pain. Both banks were vague with the dimness of slumber, and between them was this wild, sleepless unrest, running and running regardless of consequences.

To watch a scene like this in the middle of the night makes one feel altogether a different person, and the daylight life an illusion. Then again, this morning, that midnight world faded away into some dreamland, and vanished into thin air. The two are so different, yet both are true for man.

The day-world seems to me like European Music—its concords and discords resolving into each other in a great progression of harmony; the night-world like Indian Music—pure, unfettered melody, grave and poignant. What if their contrast be so striking—both move us. This principle of opposites is at the very root of creation, which is divided between the rule of the King and the Queen; Night and Day; the One and the Varied; the Eternal and the Evolving.

We Indians are under the rule of Night. We are immersed in the Eternal, the One. Our melodies are to be sung alone, to oneself; they take us out of the everyday world into a solitude aloof. European Music is for the multitude and takes them along, dancing, through the ups and downs of the joys and sorrows of men.

Image: West Bengal, India

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The Shelidah Years of Rabindranath Tagore

The cultural heritage of Bengal goes back thousands of years but it was Tagore who opened the gateway of Bengali literature to the rest of the world. He travelled all over the world, bringing back fame and honour for his country

Out of eighty years of his entire life, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) spent only ten years in Shelidah, Kushtia. But that period played a significant role in his writings as well as in his life. Tagore wrote about this stage of his life in his wonderful letters to his niece Indira which were later published in 1912 as Chhinnapatra (Torn Leaves) and in English as Glimpses of Bengal. These letters are excellent images of Bengal and the Bengali life. Tagore told WB Yeats in 1918, that those very years were most productive for him, and made a new chapter in his life. He felt that the letters would present to Yeats, pictures and ideas of his surroundings more vividly and accurately than anything he had ever written.

Both the boat and the river became an integral part of his time in Shelidah and played a significant role in the letters. He wrote about the people of his estate and about their life. His time was spent writing copiously and reading avidly.

From the boats, he watched life on the banks. He looked on at ferries endlessly carrying villagers to and from the market; groups of boys raucously rolling logs along the bank; or a young village bride sailing away to another village, leaving behind her tearful family behind; or a feisty gypsy woman rebuking a high-handed police constable.

During his days in Shelidah he visited the Maharaja of Tripura several times and a friendship developed between him and the Maharaja. Tagore was instrumental in getting financial assistance from the Maharaja of Tripura for scientist Satyen Bose for completing his research works in Europe.

He was a restless and could not stay in one place for too long. He was sent to England several times but couldn’t stay there long enough to complete any formal education. He used to be homesick and longed to return to his country.

The family was quite surprised when Tagore agreed at his father’s persuasion to go to Shelidah in 1891 to look after the family estates. He was not known for this kind of a commitment. He however moved and stayed there for ten crucial years of his life. In Shelaidah and Shazadpur on the bank of the Padma he came in close contact with the common village people and learnt about their life and realized their pathos and misery. The revelation had an immense reflection on his work which is particularly evident in the post 1891 writings. Most of his finest short stories were written during this period.

The serene rural surrounding inspired him to write, and it was at this time, ‘The Postmaster’ was written. Written in 1891 ‘The Postmaster’ was among Tagore’s earliest stories; it was made into a film by Satyajit Ray in 1960-61. He published several poetry collections, notably Sonar Tari (The Golden Boat, 1894), and plays, notably Chitrangada (Chitra 1892;) during these years. Tagore wrote in the common language of the people. He achieved this quality during his stay in Sheliadah.

In time the boat became his life. To quote from Tagore: ‘They tied the boat in a stuffy place last night and drew down the curtains. The closeness woke me up and on top of it some people started to sing at about 1 or 2 in the morning. ‘How much longer will you sleep? Awake, awake beloved’ … The boatman stopped their singing but the words went on ringing in my ears ‘awake, awake, beloved!’ till I felt ill. Finally I raised the curtains and fell asleep towards dawn… I may be able to leave here after a fortnight but I am not yet certain.’

Most of his subjects here were Muslims. He introduced his own court. Every village had its own headman from among the villagers. Five heads made a court in Tagore’s estate. Final authority rested with Tagore. Thus he had established a welfare-based society in his estate. But he had no fascination for politics or power. During his time in Shelidah none of his subjects needed to go to the local police or the court. They led a safe and peaceful life under his protection
Most of his time, on the estate, Tagore was alone, except for his subjects. His family came to live with him in Shelidah in 1898 for a few years. Between 1891 and 1901 he wrote fifty nine short stories, set in both villages and towns of Bengal and in Calcutta. These deal with characters at every level of society.

Tagore came to love the Bengali countryside, most of all the Padma river. Tagore’s poems are virtually untranslatable, as are his more than 2,000 songs, which remain extremely popular among all classes of Bengalis.

In conclusion a few lines from one of Tagore’s poems written in Shelidah:

‘Whoever wishes to,
May sit in meditation
 with eyes closed
To know if the world be true or false.
I, meanwhile,
Shall sit with hungry eyes,
To see the world

While the light lasts.

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Published in: on February 4, 2010 at 6:17 PM  Leave a Comment  
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A Song of Eternity in Time

ONCE, at night, in the manor wood
My Love and I long silent stood,
Amazed that any heavens could
Decree to part us, bitterly repining.
My Love, in aimless love and grief,
Reached forth and drew aside a leaf
That just above us played the thief
And stole our starlight that for us was shining.

A star that had remarked her pain
Shone straightway down that leafy lane,
And wrought his image, mirror-plain,
Within a tear that on her lash hung gleaming.
“Thus Time,” I cried, “is but a tear
Some one hath wept ‘twixt hope and fear,
Yet in his little lucent sphere
Our star of stars, Eternity, is beaming.”

—Sidney Lanier

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Sidney Lanier was born in Macon, Georgia, on February 3, 1842. His father, Robert Lanier, was a lawyer, and his mother, Mary Anderson, was linked through her Virginian ancestry to members of Virginia’s original House of Burgesses. In the poet’s youth in central Georgia, it was music that first captured his interest. He learned to play the violin, flute, piano, banjo and guitar.

His proclivity for music was an early sign of his budding genius. By age fourteen, Lanier was enrolled as a sophomore at Oglethorpe College, where he graduated at the top of his class. At eighteen, he was offered a tutorship at the college, a position he held until the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, Lanier was summoned to enlist in the Confederate Army. Serving alongside his brother, his battalion endured numerous battles, ending in his capture and imprisonment near Richmond, Virginia. Five months later, in February, 1865, he was released and permitted the long journey home. However, the unfavorable conditions of prison led Lanier to contract tuberculosis, which troubled him for the rest of his life.

Upon returning from the war, Lanier completed and soon published his first book: a novel detailing the gruesome hardships of war, titled Tiger Lilies. In 1867, he took the head position in a country academy in Prattville, Alabama. By December of the same year, he was married to Miss Mary Day, of Macon, and a month later he suffered his first hemorrhage in the lungs. In addition to treatments and growing exhaustion, Lanier’s artistic temperament was split by his love for both music and literature. After practicing law with his father for several years, he was urged to consider that profession, to which Lanier responded in a letter:

“My dear father, think how, for twenty years, through poverty, through pain, through weariness, through sickness, through the uncongenial atmosphere of a farcical college and of a bare army and then of an exacting business life…think how, in spite of all these depressing circumstances…these two figures of music and of poetry have steadily kept in my heart so that I could not banish them.”

In 1874, Lanier published his poem “Corn,” which earned him many admirers, one of whom, Bayard Taylor, commissioned the poet to write the cantata for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The next few years were poetically his most productive. He wrote “The Song of the Chattahoochee,” “A Song of Love,” and “The Marshes of Glynn,” his most celebrated poem. An offer to teach English literature brought him to Baltimore, Maryland, and in 1879, Lanier was appointed lecturer at Johns Hopkins University.

Having grown quite feeble by late 1880, he penned his last poem, “Sunrise,” and months later, on September 7, 1881, the poet died in Lynn, North Carolina, with his wife and family at his side, at the age of thirty-nine.

By his wife’s efforts following his death, Sidney Lanier’s poems were collected and published in a single volume, from which his readership grew. A fondness for the poet seems to exist most deeply in the South, where he is commemorated by Lake Lanier in central Georgia, and the Sidney Lanier Bridge, the state’s largest cable-stayed bridge, which opened in 2003 in Brunswick, Georgia.

Image: Lake Lanier, Georgia

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Published in: on February 3, 2010 at 5:31 PM  Comments (2)  
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Vessel

Because another day brings to light what another day brings,
the anchor gripped for a second then slipped
and nothing of any consequence happened.

Because the motion must be constant,
because the motion subsumes all that comes in contact,
the idea of the ship slides, and, its function forgotten,

the day is no longer a ship but a vessel,
the descent undramatic, slow enough
to go unnoticed by those unacquainted

with the art of the voyage, but this vessel is leaning,
that shore no harbor to hope for.

—Brian Henry

Image by Max Khokhlov

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Brian Henry has published three books of poetry– Astronaut (2000), American Incident (2002), and Graft (2003). His fourth book, Quarantine, won the 2003 Alice Fay di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America and will be publish by Ahsahta Press in 2006. He has been an editor of Verse since 1995, and he regularly writes poetry criticism for such publications as the TLS, Boston Review, and Jacket. He is working on a collection of critical essays on contemporary American poetry. He lives in Athens, Georgia with his family.

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Published in: on February 3, 2010 at 3:35 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Between Words

” The space we breathe is also called distance. . .”

— Linda Gregg

The trail to the ocean is steep.
The grass we walk through, high and wet.
I hear clear wind sighing
through slender pine, silence
between your words:
that place your loneliness lives
where I want to slip under,
move unbroken as stone.
I know where your pulse quickens
feels like water, too deep.
I know you think you might fold into yourself,
as stars do, where words might not matter.
This place you won’t go to let me hold you
is where I have gone.

—Karen Benke

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Karen Benke

Karen Benke received her M.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco and her B.A. in English and Creative Writing from California State University, Chico. She is the author of Sister (Conflu:X Press, 2004), a chapbook of poetry. Her work is published in a number of literary magazines and anthologies, including Ploughshares, Hawaii Pacific Review, Runes, Poetry East, Tifert, Rockhurst Review, Clackamas Literary Review, HeartLodge, and Woman Prayers: Prayers by Women from Throughout History and Around the World (HarperCollins, 2003). She has received Individual and Community Artist Grants from the Marin Arts Council and was awarded writing residencies from Hedgebrook and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. A poet-teacher for 16 years with the California Poets in the Schools program, she holds a Masters Level certificate in Intuition Medicine from the Academy of Intuition Medicine, and is a writing guide for both adults and children. She lives in Mill Valley, California, with her husband, a screenwriter and arts attorney, and their eight year-old son.

Prior to reaching these lofty and well-deserved heights, Karen worked as a short-order cook, administrative assistant, receptionist, waitress, babysitter, bookseller, and kayak guide, all of which contributed immeasurably to the depth and honesty of her work.

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Published in: on February 1, 2010 at 4:30 PM  Leave a Comment  
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In The House

I am attracted by the dust
and silence of an upper shelf,
the strange air

that causes linoleum
to bulge in the cellar.
I know the walls come to hug

like grizzlies
if you stare at them too long,
and the kitchen knife

wants to be held.
I sense the aromas of sex,
the delicate, stale drift

of arguments and spite
no amount of cleaning will solve.
I know when love goes

it slips through all insulation,
forgets your name,
becomes sky.

—Stephen Dunn

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Dunn was born in Forest Hills, NY in 1939, and earned his BA in History from Hofstra University in 1962. He attended the New School 1964 to 1966 and received his Master of Arts in Creative Writing from Syracuse University in 1970. He’s the author of sixteen books, including Different Hours, which won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Stephen Dunn

Since 1974 he has taught at Richard Stockton College of NJ, where he is Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing. He’s also been a Visiting Professor at The University of Washington, NYU, Columbia, and The University of Michigan.

He has read his poetry at The Library of Congress, and at many universities and colleges throughout the country.

In addition to his books, his work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Nation, the New Republic, the New Yorker, The Georgia Review, and the American Poetry Review, to name just a few.

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Image by George Tooker
Published in: on January 30, 2010 at 5:33 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Parable for a Certain Virgin

Dorothy Parker

Oh, ponder, friend, the porcupine;
Refresh your recollection,
And sit a moment, to define
His means of self-protection.

How truly fortified is he!
Where is the beast his double
In forethought of emergency
And readiness for trouble?

Recall his figure, and his shade-
How deftly planned and clearly
For slithering through the dappled glade
Unseen, or pretty nearly.

Yet should an alien eye discern
His presence in the woodland,
How little has he left to learn
Of self-defense! My good land!

For he can run, as swift as sound,
To where his goose may hang high-
Or thrust his head against the ground
And tunnel half to Shanghai;

Or he can climb the dizziest bough-
Unhesitant, mechanic-
And, resting, dash from off his brow
The bitter beads of panic;

Or should pursuers press him hot,
One scarcely needs to mention
His quick and cruel barbs, that got
Shakespearean attention;

Or driven to his final ditch,
To his extremest thicket,
He’ll fight with claws and molars (which
Is not considered cricket).

How amply armored, he, to fend
The fear of chase that haunts him!
How well prepared our little friend!-
And who the devil wants him?

—Dorothy Parker

Recited by the Poet Dorothy Parker

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Published in: on January 27, 2010 at 5:00 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Return

I often dream about the ocean
and would like to write
a long ode to water, because I live
on a drought stricken flood plain
next to a sea where a baked delta
opens between glittering sandstone cliffs
& the dunes and beaches make holiday resorts
seem like colonies in outer space.
Where are the green islands? Where are
the sticky hibiscus flowers,
the paddocks full of clover and grass,
the intricate mangrove swamps
& the mud that squelches between your toes?
Instead I am covered in salt —
the same brother you forgot
whose wounds were like rumours
of the rains’ failure
but who returns even so, just as the wet arrives
after weeks of dry storm lightning out to sea
& who stands in front of you
dressed in his flash city clothes
but suddenly shy, like a stranger embarrassed
by wet footprints and tears
& the sudden atmosphere of drama.

—John Forbes

Image: “Beach House” by Lois Gold

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Published in: on January 26, 2010 at 4:16 PM  Comments (2)  
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Smell and Envy

You nature poets think you’ve got it, hostaged
somewhere in Vermont or Oregon,
so it blooms and withers only for you,
so all you have to do is name it: primrose
— and now you’re writing poetry, and now
you ship it off to us, to smell and envy.

But we are made of newspaper and smoke
and we dunk your roses in vats of blue.
Birds don’t call, our pigeons play it close
to the vest. When the moon is full
we hear it in the sirens. The Pleiades
you could probably buy downtown. Gravity
is the receiver on the hook. Mortality
we smell on certain people as they pass.

—Douglas Goetsch

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Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 4:56 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Elk

That it was — fleshwarm, earthen, a marvelous
breathing thing. And the glance, a lastingness from cornea,
milky, asking sky. And if you had seen the great beast

fall — unsure, to its knees, then struggle the leaden head —
gaiting a few yards, before collapsing, antlers first, like a black oak’s
crown, top-heavy into earth, you might worship the stubborn

gravity of land, and the garden, sudden its insides: Harvest
of soft, wet rocks, melons, — or is it a cave where the menses
of a secret ocean have dried? — Blood from the mouth. Tongue,

beard-black, says death. — And teeth, yellow seeds, from which all
these boulders grew? And here’s the intestine’s white chain mottled
brown, its lumen narrowing down like a perfect sentence

pronounced by God. And here’s the great comma of each lung,
bellows undone. And here’s the slug, a period in the heart’s
balloon. And now this sunrise of flora and fauna

laid out, bloody map of the thing apart, and you
the hunter, instructionless, emptied of passion, crossing
green rivers, climbing red cliffs of meat, pulling off

the hide, walking out into another life, down the femur
to knuckly knee, you fall on the ground to worship
the bluestone and glass of each hoof, spoor lost

among root-sort. And now, shearing the meat from bone,
pulling the backstraps from spine, separating the loin,
hacking the fat from hide, whittling the pink from ribs, all

thirteen pair sculpting the air, jailing the light. — Spirit out,
spirit out. The head in a tree is a tree gazing toward
the wind-singing cage, toward the invisible bird of the heart.

—Mark Irwin

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Published in: on January 24, 2010 at 1:33 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Lost in Translation

This is a bit out of character for the blog, and I have no intention of turning this into some didactic rant. But among the frustrations for those of us who  select our poetry from an international pallet is that so much is lost in translation despite the best effort, intention and ability of the translator. Below is an example of a favorite Baudelaire poem of mine in the original French and three widely read translations. There are others, including my personal preference, the James McGowan translation of Baudelaire’s The Flowers Of Evil, but these should serve my point:

À une passante

La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait.
Longue, mince, en grand deuil, douleur majestueuse,
Une femme passa, d’une main fastueuse
Soulevant, balançant le feston et l’ourlet;

Agile et noble, avec sa jambe de statue.
Moi, je buvais, crispé comme un extravagant,
Dans son oeil, ciel livide où germe l’ouragan,
La douceur qui fascine et le plaisir qui tue.

Un éclair… puis la nuit! — Fugitive beauté
Dont le regard m’a fait soudainement renaître,
Ne te verrai-je plus que dans l’éternité?

Ailleurs, bien loin d’ici! trop tard! jamais peut-être!
Car j’ignore où tu fuis, tu ne sais où je vais,
Ô toi que j’eusse aimée, ô toi qui le savais!

Charles Baudelaire

To a Passer-By

The street about me roared with a deafening sound.
Tall, slender, in heavy mourning, majestic grief,
A woman passed, with a glittering hand
Raising, swinging the hem and flounces of her skirt;

Agile and graceful, her leg was like a statue’s.
Tense as in a delirium, I drank
From her eyes, pale sky where tempests germinate,
The sweetness that enthralls and the pleasure that kills.

A lightning flash… then night! Fleeting beauty
By whose glance I was suddenly reborn,
Will I see you no more before eternity?

Elsewhere, far, far from here! too late! never perhaps!
For I know not where you fled, you know not where I go,
O you whom I would have loved, O you who knew it!

—William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

A Passer-by

The deafening street roared on. Full, slim, and grand
In mourning and majestic grief, passed down
A woman, lifting with a stately hand
And swaying the black borders of her gown;

Noble and swift, her leg with statues matching;
I drank, convulsed, out of her pensive eye,
A livid sky where hurricanes were hatching,
Sweetness that charms, and joy that makes one die.

A lighting-flash — then darkness! Fleeting chance
Whose look was my rebirth — a single glance!
Through endless time shall I not meet with you?

Far off! too late! or never! — I not knowing
Who you may be, nor you where I am going —
You, whom I might have loved, who know it too!

—Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)

To a Woman Passing By

The deafening road around me roared.
Tall, slim, in deep mourning, making majestic grief,
A woman passed, lifting and swinging
With a pompous gesture the ornamental hem of her garment,

Swift and noble, with statuesque limb.
As for me, I drank, twitching like an old roué,
From her eye, livid sky where the hurricane is born,
The softness that fascinates and the pleasure that kills,

A gleam… then night! O fleeting beauty,
Your glance has given me sudden rebirth,
Shall I see you again only in eternity?

Somewhere else, very far from here! Too late! Perhaps never!
For I do not know where you flee, nor you where I am going,
O you whom I would have loved, O you who knew it!

—Geoffrey Wagner, Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire (NY: Grove Press, 1974)

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Published in: on January 24, 2010 at 9:29 AM  Leave a Comment  
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In Memory of Freud

The motion of water is a lie, we are what moves
over it, to Brindisi or Lisbon,
faces on a ferry looking

at the silver bangles
the water wears.
You missed the beginning when

we were water
and light. What you always believed
you knew is a mistranslation.

No one wants to say
what has really been said. Stand
at the edge of the cliff

to remember whales and water buffalo,
signet rings and stone. Walk out to the pier.
Take in the length

of our yearnings. We were never meant
to walk over water. We were
meant to immerse ourselves

and recall how to move. Go back
in time to beyond time: what were you
doing when minerals formed?

Go back some more and tell me this fossil
is a bone that was your hand.
Maybe you are missing the chapter on Plague

or the chapter that tells you not to
practice in public what you secretly anoint.
These are episodes in the story, not the whole

story, so think of love
and loss as twins that argue then make up
when the air parts

and produces a grammar
of solitude. If the symbol
of longing

is a wire that winds
the circumference of the earth,
you must get on your knees.

—Margot Schilpp

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MARGOT SCHILPP’s two books of poetry are The World’s Last Night(2001) and Laws of My Nature (2005), both published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. She is at work on a third collection, Civil Twilight, from which the poems here come. Her work has appeared widely in journals, including The Southern Review, LIT, Denver Quarterly, American Letters & Commentary, The Journal, The Gettysburg Review, and Hotel Amerika. She has been granted residencies at Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Fundacíon Valparaíso in Spain, as well as an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Connecticut Council on Culture and Tourism. She teaches at Southern Connecticut State University and at the Educational Center for the Arts, an arts high school in New Haven. She lives with her husband, Jeff Mock, and their daughters Paula and Leah.

It has often been said that there is nothing new under the sun, but Margot Schilpp takes that hurdle with ease by dressing her thoughts in fresh language, thus finding ways to present her surroundings in an original way. With the first poem from, The World’s Last Night, “Red-Winged Blackbird,” she instantly pulls us into her thought patterns and her way of viewing the world:

The barbed wire bends across the field
like a hair out of place, though not exactly.
The platinum sky is bleak and it weeps: gray
all day isn’t the only way of grieving.
Longing is a knife that blunts itself

on the dull muscle of the heart. . . .

Who pointed out the beautiful markings of birds?
Summer’s curtain draws across, red-winged
blackbirds weave into the fence, drag
a crimson thread across the eye.

Who can resist such writing—who would want to?

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Published in: on January 23, 2010 at 4:19 PM  Comments (2)  
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Waiting

‘Tis sweet to hear the watch dog’s honest bark
Bay deep-mouthed welcome as we draw near home;
’tis sweet to know there is an eye will mark
Our coming and look brighter when we come.

—Lord Byron

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Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 11:28 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Call of the Coal

Only the outcasts know
about Cain being in Eden,
Pennsylvania — the trees marked
with a tight slash like a beast’s scratch.
This is new country —
the gorge opening to a split-melon valley
cradled between mountains.
No river flows here, only an unnamed spring
that overflows onto skunk cabbage
and sumac. Wild onion and milkweed
slating unfurled fields
like stalks of Indian maize.

In Bethlehem valley
it’s summer, and miners
speckled with dust sway with moonshine.
Cain’s walking home in shifting light,
watching farmers harvest corn and rye,
wheat and timothy.
He once knew how to break earth,
sift seed from feed,
knew the long hours between dawn and dusk.
But in America, he knows only coal —
the sweet remains of his sacrifice —
the blood that calls him to earth
day after day;
as long as wheat sways in heaven,
he’ll follow the hollowed shafts
that swirl down into the unknown.

—Martin Taylor

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Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 10:07 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Sober Trees

Days I don’t drink I am aimless
in a crowded Sears in a small Iowa.

The lights are ridiculously bright
& frankly, I can’t get used to that.

I am mesmerized with the escalators
& not just the oblivious ups & downs

but by the illusion of not getting any-
where & continuously. I drink strategic-

ally half the time to be unsure of my natural
state of consciousness. It’s a pillow over

the face this sober thing. In its parking lot,
the vulture tow trucks look for souls

who left their headlights burning & charge
exorbitantly for a jump. I admit sympathy

for teen-age girls dropped off by their nervous
dads with baby sitting moola crammed in their

tiny pocketbooks. When I drink the stars appear
very impersonal so I know my twin exists

elsewhere & one of us knows the truth & has
conned the other into some sad isolation that

acts like a very loyal yo-yo. If I think about it,
the leaves cover trees less than half the year

but I think of the natural, sober state
of a tree as having leaves, not being bare.

—Bruce Cohen

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Image by George Tooker
Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 1:09 PM  Comments (2)  
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Sweat

Friday night I entered a dark corridor
rode to the upper floors with men who filled
the stainless elevator with their smell.

Did you ever make a crystal garden, pour salt
into water, keep pouring until nothing more
dissolved?
A landscape will bloom in that saturation.

My daddy’s body shop floats to the surface
like a submarine. Men with nibblers and tin snips
buffing skins, sanding curves under clamp lights.

I grew up curled in the window of a 300 SL
Gullwing, while men glided on their backs
through oily rainbows below me.

They torqued lugnuts, flipped fag ends
into gravel. Our torch song
had one refrain — oh the pain of loving you.

Friday nights they’d line the shop sink, naked
to the waist, scour down with Ajax, spray water
across their necks and up into their armpits.

Babies have been conceived on sweat alone —
the buttery scent of a woman’s breast,
the cumin of a man. From the briny odor

of black lunch boxes — cold cuts, pickles,
waxed paper — my girl flesh grows.
From the raunchy fume of strangers.

—Sandra Alcosser

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FROM THE ACADEMY OF AMERICAN POETS: Sandra Alcosser was born in Washington, DC, in 1944, and she grew up in South Bend, Indiana. She received her B.A. from Purdue University in 1972 and an M.F.A. from the University of Montana in 1982, where she studied with Richard Hugo. She is the author of Except By Nature (Graywolf Press, 1998), which received the Academy’s 1998 James Laughlin Award and was selected by Eamon Grennan for the 1997 National Poetry Series; Sleeping Inside the Glacier, a collaboration with artist Michele Burgess (1997); and A Fish to Feed All Hunger (1993), which was selected by James Tate to be the Associated Writing Programs Award Series winner in poetry. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, and The Yale Review.

Alcosser’s honors include a Montana Artist Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, a Pushcart Prize, a San Diego Artist Fellowship, and a Writer’s Voice New Voices of the West Award. Formerly the director of Central Park’s Poets-in-the-Park program in New York City, Alcosser started the MFA Program in Creative Writing at San Diego State University. She is currently a professor of poetry, fiction, and feminist poetics at San Diego State University, and has taught at the University of Michigan, the University of Montana, and Louisiana State University. Alcosser divides her time between San Diego and Florence, Montana.

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Published in: on January 20, 2010 at 11:25 PM  Leave a Comment  
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I Remember, I Remember

I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn;
He never came a wink too soon
Nor brought too long a day;
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away.

I remember, I remember
The roses red and white,
The violets and the lily cups–
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built,
And where my brother set
The laburnum on his birthday,—
The tree is living yet!

I remember, I remember
Where I was used to swing,
And thought the air must rush as fresh
To swallows on the wing;
My spirit flew in feathers then
That is so heavy now,
The summer pools could hardly cool
The fever on my brow.

I remember, I remember
The fir-trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky:
It was a childish ignorance,
But now ’tis little joy
To know I’m farther off from Heaven
Than when I was a boy.

—Thomas Hood

Read by Tim Pigott-Smith

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Image by Johann Georg Meyer
Published in: on January 20, 2010 at 1:31 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Facing It

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way–the stone lets me go.
I turn that way–I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

—Yusef Komunyakaa

Read by the Poet Yusef Komunyakaa

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Published in: on January 19, 2010 at 2:33 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Idea of Ancestry

1

Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black
faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-
fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews.  They stare
across the space at me sprawling on my bunk.  I know
their dark eyes, they know mine.  I know their style,
they know mine.  I am all of them, they are all of me;
they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.

I have at one time or another been in love with my mother,
1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum),
and 5 cousins.  I am now in love with a 7-yr-old niece
(she sends me letters in large block print, and
her picture is the only one that smiles at me).

I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews,
and 1 uncle. The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took
off and caught a freight (they say).  He’s discussed each year
when the family has a reunion, he causes uneasiness in
the clan, he is an empty space.  My father’s mother, who is 93
and who keeps the Family Bible with everbody’s birth dates
(and death dates) in it, always mentions him.  There is no
place in her Bible for “whereabouts unknown.”    

2

Each fall the graves of my grandfathers call me, the brown
hills and red gullies of mississippi send out their electric
messages, galvanizing my genes.  Last yr/like a salmon quitting
the cold ocean-leaping and bucking up his birth stream/I
hitchhiked my way from LA with 16 caps in my pocket and a
monkey on my back.  And I almost kicked it with the kinfolks.
I walked barefooted in my grandmother’s backyard/I smelled the old
land and the woods/I sipped cornwhiskey from fruit jars with the men/
I flirted with the women/I had a ball till the caps ran out
and my habit came down.  That night I looked at my grandmother
and split/my guts were screaming for junk/but I was almost
contented/I had almost caught up with me.
(The next day in Memphis I cracked a croaker’s crib for a fix.)

This yr there is a gray stone wall damming my stream, and when
the falling leaves stir my genes, I pace my cell or flop on my bunk
and stare at 47 black faces across the space.  I am all of them,
they are all of me, I am me, they are thee, and I have no children
to float in the space between.    

—Etheridge Knight

Read by the Poet Etheridge Knight

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Here’s a short biographical sketch from The Academy of American Poets:

Etheridge Knight was born in Corinth, Mississippi, in 1931. Although he dropped out of school at age fourteen, his education in the uses and joys of language continued as he explored the world of juke joints, pool halls, and underground poker games. He began to master the art of the toast, a form of long, improvised, humorous poetry that dates back to the 19th century and has its roots in African storytelling. From 1947 to 1951, Knight served in the U.S. Army in Korea, and returning with a shrapnel wound that caused him to fall deeper into a drug addiction that had begun in his youth. In 1960 he was arrested for robbery and sentenced to eight years in the Indiana State Prison. During this time he began writing poetry, and he corresponded with and received visits from such established African American literary figures as Dudley Randall and Gwendolyn Brooks. Dudley Randall’s Broadside Press published Poems from Prison (1968), Etheridge Knight’s first book, one year before he was released from prison.

The book was a success, and Knight soon joined such poets as Amiri Baraka, Haki Madhubuti, and Sonia Sanchez (to whom he was once married) in what came to be called the Black Arts Movement. This movement, according to the poet and critic Larry Neal, was “radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community. Black Arts is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept. As such, it envisions art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America.” Knight embraced these ideals in his own work and in 1970 edited a collection entitled Black Voices From Prison. Knight’s books and oral performances drew both popular and critical acclaim, and he received honors from such institutions as the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Poetry Society of America. In 1990 he earned a bachelor’s degree in American poetry and criminal justice from Martin Center University in Indianapolis. Etheridge Knight died in 1991.

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Published in: on January 18, 2010 at 11:48 AM  Leave a Comment  
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The Blossom

A May morning.
Light starting in the sky.

I have come here
after a long night,
its senses of loss,
its unrelenting memories of happiness.

The blossom on the apple tree is still in shadow,
its petals half-white and filled with water at the core
in which the freshness and secrecy of dawn are stored
even in the dark.

How much longer will I see girlhood in my daughter?

In other seasons
I knew every leaf on this tree.
Now I stand here
almost without seeing them

and so lost in grief
I hardly notice what is happening
as the light increases and the blossom speaks
and turns to me with blonde hair and my eyebrows
and says —

imagine if I stayed here,
even for the sake of your love
what would happen to the summer?
To the fruit?

Then holds out a dawn-soaked hand to me
whose fingers I counted at birth
years ago

and touches mine for the last time.

And falls to earth.

—Eavan Boland

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Published in: on January 17, 2010 at 4:13 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Talking Back

Talking Back (To W. H. Auden)

‘for poetry makes nothing happen. . .’

What it makes happen is small things,
sometimes, to some, in an area
already pretty well taken
care of by the senses. Thus, to
the eye, spruce needles fix the tufts
of new snow to the twigs so the
wind cannot dislodge them. They hold —
a metaphor. And in the ear,
the open, talking shapes, jet black,
in a snowbound brook, croon about
cold. And snow-foliage on the
high slopes dupes the eye, the whirring
spruces dupe the ear, and you think:
catkins, maybe, in February
or you think: whirring of doves’ wings.
And ice underfoot is mica —
correspondences a man will
find, to his slight alteration,
always, where he pays attention —
on a walk after powder snow,
in a poem. As you well know.

Looked at carefully, nothing is sullen
but an inattentive creature.
Disorderly things praise order.
The exact details of our plight
in your poems, order revealed
by the closest looking, are things
I’m changed by and had never seen,
might never have seen, but for them.

Poetry makes such things happen
sometimes, as certain people do
at the right juncture of our lives.
Don’t knock it, it has called across
the enchanted chasm of love
resemblances like rescue gear.
It is like finding on your tongue
right words to call across the floe
of arrogance to the wise dead,
of health to sickness, old to young.
Across this debt, we tell you so.

—William Meredith

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Published in: on January 17, 2010 at 12:13 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Carpenter’s Son

To the Gallows

Here the hangman stops his cart:
Now the best of friends must part.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.

Oh, at home had I but stayed
‘Prenticed to my father’s trade,
Had I stuck to plane and adze,
I had not been lost, my lads.

Then I might have built perhaps
Gallows-trees for other chaps,
Never dangled on my own,
Had I but left ill alone.”

Now, you see, they hang me high,
And the people passing by
Stop to shake their fists and curse;
So ’tis come from ill to worse.”

Here hang I, and right and left
Two poor fellows hang for theft:
All the same’s the luck we prove,
Though the midmost hangs for love.

Comrades all, that stand and gaze,
Walk henceforth in other ways;
See my neck and save your own:
Comrades all, leave ill alone.

Make some day a decent end,
Shrewder fellows than your friend.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.

—A E Housman

Read by Pete Postlethwaite

Published in: on January 16, 2010 at 2:51 PM  Comments (2)  
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Just by Deciding It

If you were with me, I’d be thinking
Of a drive out to the white lake
Even though it’s raining.
We could watch the mallards’ mating dance
And eat a hamburger, or listen
To Vivaldi on the radio, an oboe and guitar.

Once I tried learning to play the guitar.
You’re always thinking
I know how, but I don’t. If you’d listen
When I tell you these things. . . The lake
Is rattled now, I imagine, by the dance
Of lightning, flocks ascending. The reigning

Species this fall is blue teal, but when it’s raining
They disappear. Sometimes I’ve picked up your guitar
As if, just by deciding it, my fingers could dance
Over the strings. And I wouldn’t be thinking
About anything but, maybe, mist on a lake,
And I’d step out of my body and listen.

Brent, listen:
You can hardly hear it raining
From the banks that surround our tender lake
Like the body of a guitar
Around its vacant well. Thinking
About it, not like a death, but like a dance,

We are locked arm in arm; the dance
Depends on the distance between us. We listen
For the counterpoint, thinking
It’s our one hope: to love rain when it’s raining.
The flood hits the roof like chords on a guitar.
If we were together the lake

Could be all ours. No one comes to the lake
On a day like this. No one watches ducks dance
Or holds his breath to hear their quiet — Listen —
Almost inaudible banter, like me on the guitar:
Strumming but muted. It has stopped raining.
If you were here, what would we be thinking?

I lie down by the lake and listen.
Stop thinking for a minute. It isn’t even raining.
That’s you in the ground dancing. That’s me on the
guitar.

—Myrna Stone

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Published in: on January 15, 2010 at 8:22 PM  Leave a Comment  
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To Elsie

William Carlos Williams

The pure products of America
go crazy—
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of
Jersey
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure—

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
character
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags-succumbing without
emotion
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum-
which they cannot express—

Unless it be that marriage
perhaps
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she’ll be rescued by an
agent—
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs—

some doctor’s family, some Elsie—
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us—
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
jewelry
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
were
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
destined
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
Somehow
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
something
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

—William Carlos Williams

Recited by the Poet William Carlos Williams

Published in: on January 15, 2010 at 2:17 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Museum Of Desire

So much is there,
so much that someone wanted once,
that no one wants now.
And each of the visitors
is thinking of the thing
he loves least: the ugly child,
the sweetheart grown fat and stupid.
In this wing, the girl,
rich and unappreciated, who wants
nothing more than to resemble
her own portrait;
in that, the boy
who runs to catch the ball
and runs and runs
but does not catch it.
And in his office,
the curator, a man sunk
in age, in the depth of his sorrow,
his beautiful manners.
As he sips his coffee,
a light inside the cup
bathes his face;
it is the world,
and the world is burning.

—David Kirby

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Published in: on January 14, 2010 at 8:36 AM  Comments (2)  
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Fragments of a Forgotten War

"The Grey Man Dances" by George Grosz 1949, Grosz Collection

Read by the Poet Suji Kwock Kim

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Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 1:03 PM  Comments (2)  
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Two Young Women

A fragrance heavy as dust, and two young women
motionless as manikins, dressed in black.

The white moth of timelessness flutters about them,
unable to leave the cool light of their faces.

One holds the other’s head in her hands
like a mirror. The other leans into the long fingers

knowing how heavy her beauty is. Eye to eye,
breath into breath, they lean as if frozen forever:

a white cup with two lithe figures painted in black
and the warm wine brimming.

—Ted Kooser

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Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 11:47 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Absence

There are men and women huddled in rooms tonight
discussing dark matter, the non-stuff, the anti-
things which fill the universe. Imagine writing
that grant. Their children are of relatively
specific dimension, their houses occupy
nearly calculable space. Seven have dogs.
One dreams of playing in the British Open
nude. Yes, exactly like your father.
Of special interest is the woman in an office
in Princeton in a swivel chair looking
through a window at the pond where Einstein’s
said to have sat and thought about sailboats,
the little ones German children race on ponds.
She whispers Bolivia, a word she caught
on a map earlier and hasn’t been able to shake.
She has never been there. She has never left
the east, finds Bar Harbor exotic, thinks
of lobsters as the first wave of an alien invasion.
Together with a colleague she is trying to total
the mass of everything, the mental equivalent
of 27 clowns cramming into a 60s vintage Volvo.
What she likes about the word Bolivia
beside the sexual things it does to the tongue
is her feeling that anything you do there
might cause people to dance. She would like
to dance now. If most of what exists
can’t be seen or spread on toast
or wedged under a door in summer
when you want to fall asleep on the couch
to a wind that began somewhere near Topeka,
it’s acceptable to dance on a desk in an office
paid for by the Rockefeller Foundation
in an attempt to resurrect that once
good name. And even as she pictures herself
clearing and scaling the desk,
she is striding to the board and brushing
away a series of calculations
and replacing them with another, more
elegant run, adding at the end the curlicue
of infinity which normalizes the equation,
which makes her noodling momentarily right
with God and explains how a pinhole
could have the density of a universe, how half
of Jupiter could lie balled in your shoe.
Bolivia, she says, spinning. Bolivia,
she repeats, grabbing Bill Morrison
by the collar. Bolivia, he answers,
embracing the odd particulars of revelation,
kissing her hand in a burlesque of manners,
knowing it’s just made chalk beautiful,
aligned the glyphs of mass and spin
into a schematic of everything. Then briefly,
looking over his shoulder at the board,
she realizes in essence she’s trapped
nothing, not the stars but the black leading
between the light, the same absence
she feels at night when looking up a force
like wind rises through her body, leaving
no trace except the need to be surrounded
by anything more comforting than space.

—Bob Hicok

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Published in: on January 12, 2010 at 2:46 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Song of the Old Mother

My Old Mother's Song by Michael De Munkacsy ca 1865

I RISE in the dawn, and I kneel and blow
Till the seed of the fire flicker and glow.
And then I must scrub, and bake, and sweep,
Till stars are beginning to blink and peep;
But the young lie long and dream in their bed
Of the matching of ribbons, the blue and the red,
And their day goes over in idleness,
And they sigh if the wind but lift up a tress.
While I must work, because I am old
And the seed of the fire gets feeble and cold.

—William Butler Yeats

Recited by the Poet William Butler Yeats

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Published in: on January 11, 2010 at 5:13 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Afternoon by Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker

When I am old, and comforted,
And done with this desire,
With Memory to share my bed
And Peace to share my fire,

I’ll comb my hair in scalloped bands
Beneath my laundered cap,
And watch my cool and fragile hands
Lie light upon my lap.

And I will have a sprigged gown
With lace to kiss my throat;
I’ll draw my curtain to the town,
And hum a purring note.

And I’ll forget the way of tears,
And rock, and stir my tea.
But oh, I wish those blessed years
Were further than they be!

—Dorothy Parker

Read by the Poet Dorothy Parker

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Published in: on January 10, 2010 at 4:44 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Fern Hill and the Legend

First the legend of Fern Hill.

Fern Hill

It seems that around the turn of the century, years before Dylan Thomas spent summers there, Fern Hill was owned by a wealthy family. The assistant hangman of a nearby town married into the family and lived at Fern Hill with his new wife and daughter. When the daughter was three years old, however, the hangman’s wife died, and she left everything to her daughter when the daughter came of age.

The assistant hangman and his daughter lived together at Fern Hill for years, until the day of her eighteenth birthday. It was then that the father barred the windows with iron, and it was then that he locked her in the house to prevent her from marrying and thus “stealing away” his fortune. He built a stone vault that leaned up beside the house—a clausterphobic fortress you can still see in the middle of the photograph. And in that vault he left her.

And one night her love came to the house and was able to bend a bar or two, and the couple disappeared and were never heard from again. And the next morning, true to his vocation, the assistant hangman hanged himself in the basement….

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Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

—Dylan Thomas

Recited by the Poet Dylan Thomas

Published in: on January 9, 2010 at 11:22 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Zimmer Imagines Heaven

I sit with Joseph Conrad in Monet’s garden.
We are listening to Yeats chant his poems,
A breeze stirs through Thomas Hardy’s moustache,
John Skelton has gone to the house for beer,
Wanda Landowska lightly fingers a clavichord,
Along the spruce tree walk Roberto Clemente and
Thurman Munson whistle a baseball back and forth.
Mozart chats with Ellington in the roses.

Monet smokes and dabs his canvas in the sun,
Brueghel and Turner set easels behind the wisteria.
The band is warming up in the Big Studio:
Bead, Brute, Bird and Serge on saxes,
Kai, Bill Harris, Lawrence Brown, trombones,
Little Jazz, Clifford, Fats on trumpets,
Klook plays drums, Mingus bass, Bud the piano.
Later Madam Schuman-Heink will sing Schubert,
The monks of Benedictine Abby with chant.
There will be more poems from Emily Dickinson,
James Wright, John Clare, Walt Whitman.
Shakespeare rehearses players for King Lear.

At dusk Alice Toklas brings out platters
of Sweetbreads a la Napolitaine, Salad Livoniere,
And a tureen of Gaspacho of Malaga.
After the meal Brahms passes fine cigars.
God comes then, radiant, with a bottle of cognac,
She pours generously into the snifters,
I tell Her I have begun to learn what
Heaven is about. She wants to hear.
It is, I say, being thankful for eternity.
Her smile is the best part of the day.

—Paul Zimmer

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Recited by the Poet Paul Zimmer

Published in: on January 8, 2010 at 3:44 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Lost Pilot by James Tate

For my father, 1922-1944

Your face did not rot
like the others–the co-pilot,
for example, I saw him
yesterday. His face is corn-
mush: his wife and daughter,
the poor ignorant people, stare
as if he will compose soon.
He was more wronged than Job.
But your face did not rot
like the others—it grew dark,
and hard like ebony;
the features progressed in their
distinction. If I could cajole
you to come back for an evening,
down from your compulsive
orbiting, I would touch you,
read your face as Dallas,
your hoodlum gunner, now,
with the blistered eyes, reads
his braille editions. I would
touch your face as a disinterested

scholar touches an original page.
However frightening, I would
discover you, and I would not
turn you in; I would not make
you face your wife, or Dallas,
or the co-pilot, Jim. You
could return to your crazy
orbiting, and I would not try
to fully understand what
it means to you. All I know
is this: when I see you,
as I have seen you at least
once every year of my life,
spin across the wilds of the sky
like a tiny, African god,
I feel dead. I feel as if I were
the residue of a stranger’s life,
that I should pursue you.
My head cocked toward the sky,
I cannot get off the ground,
and, you, passing over again,
fast, perfect, and unwilling
to tell me that you are doing
well, or that it was mistake
that placed you in that world,
and me in this; or that misfortune
placed these worlds in us.

—James Tate

Read by the Poet James Tate

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Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 11:03 AM  Leave a Comment  
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The Colonel

Carolyn Forsche

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 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 f— themselves. 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.

—Carolyn Forsche

Read by the Poet Carolyn Forsche

Published in: on January 6, 2010 at 8:35 AM  Comments (1)  
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The Good-Morrow

I wonder by my troth, what thou, and I
Did, till we lov’d? Were we not wean’d till then?
But suck’d on countrey pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the seaven sleepers den?
T’was so; But this, all pleasures fancies bee.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desir’d, and got, ’twas but a dreame of thee.

And now good morrow to our waking soules,
Which watch not one another out of feare;
For love, all love of other sights controules,
And makes one little roome, an every where.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let Maps to other, worlds on worlds have showne,
Let us possesse one world; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appeares,
And true plaine hearts doe in the faces rest,
Where can we finde two better hemispheares
Without sharpe North, without declining West?
What ever dyes, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none doe slacken, none can die.

—John Donne

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Read by Bill Wallis

Published in: on January 5, 2010 at 1:21 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Soldier Sleep

Soldier, rest! thy warfare o’er,
Sleep the sleep that knows
not breaking,
Dream of battled fields no more,
Days of danger, nights of waking.

—Walter Scott

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Published in: on January 4, 2010 at 2:39 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Books

Sometimes I sit among them not reading
Wondering what it would be like blind,
Or if, one day, I just lost the desire.
Then I think of all the people leading
Other kinds of lives in which to find
Time would be like trying to join a choir.

When they got there they’d be so tired
That singing would be out of the question.
When Shostakovich, rehearsing the music
Of his Seventh during the siege, hired
Such musicians as had not succumbed
To hunger or cold, or had not been tricked

By the situation into thinking
That there was no longer any reason
To play, he instructed the piccolos
To support their instrument, by holding
It on their knee to at least mark the section
If they couldn’t muster the breath to blow.

—Martin Earl

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Published in: on January 4, 2010 at 10:51 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Still by A R Ammons

I said I will find what is lowly
and put the roots of my identity
down there:
each day I’ll wake up
and find the lowly nearby,
a handy focus and reminder,
a ready measure of my significance,
the voice by which I would be heard,
the wills, the kinds of selfishness
I could
freely adopt as my own:

but though I have looked everywhere,
I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is

magnificent with existence, is in
surfeit of glory:
nothing is diminished,
nothing has been diminished for me:

I said what is more lowly than the grass:
ah, underneath,
a ground-crust of dry-burnt moss:
I looked at it closely
and said this can be my habitat: but
nestling in I
found
below the brown exterior
green mechanisms beyond the intellect
awaiting resurrection in rain: so I got up

and ran saying there is nothing lowly in the universe:
I found a beggar:
he had stumps for legs: nobody was paying
him any attention: everybody went on by:
I nestled in and found his life:
there, love shook his body like a devastation:

I said
though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe:

I whirled though transfigurations up and down,
transfigurations of size and shape and place:

at one sudden point came still,
stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
with being!

—A R Ammons

Recited by the Poet A R Ammons

Published in: on January 3, 2010 at 10:36 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Secret Of My Endurance

I still get letters in the mail, mostly from cracked-up
men in tiny rooms with factory jobs or no jobs who are
living with whores or no woman at all, no hope, just
booze and madness.
Most of their letters are on lined paper
written with an unsharpened pencil
or in ink
in tiny handwriting that slants to the
left

and the paper is often torn
usually halfway up the middle
and they say they like my stuff,
I’ve written from where it’s at, and
they recognize that. truly, I’ve given them a second
chance, some recognition of where they’re at.

it’s true, I was there, worse off than most
of them.
but I wonder if they realize where their letters
arrive?
well, they are dropped into a box
behind a six-foot hedge with a long driveway leading
to a two car garage, rose garden, fruit trees,
animals, a beautiful woman, mortgage about half
paid after a year, a new car,
fireplace and a green rug two-inches thick
with a young boy to write my stuff now,
I keep him in a ten-foot cage with a
typewriter, feed him whiskey and raw whores,
belt him pretty good three or four times
a week.
I’m 60 years old now and the critics say
my stuff is getting better than ever.

—Charles Bukowski

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Published in: on January 2, 2010 at 11:44 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Prince of Clouds

The poet is like the prince of the clouds
Who haunts the tempest and laughs at the
Archer
Exiled on the ground in the midst of jeers,
His giant wings prevent him from walking.

—Baudelaire

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Published in: on January 2, 2010 at 11:02 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Quattrocento

Inside the bus the strangled air, stuck windows, and then,
hours later it seems, we are delivered from our confinement
into the stunned, barren streets of Borgo San Sepolcro,
noon and no one anywhere, July heat blistering the stones,
smoldering the dust of the bus station. In the one open trattoria,

the only bad food in Italy, and on the TV, pinned high to the wall
like a TV in a hospital room, the image of an American movie star,
and in Italian we can’t make out, we think we hear a word
that sounds like crash — maybe she’s dead, we think, though later
we’ll discover, in the yellowing pages of a tabloid curled

in a Roman gutter, that she’d only given birth. Outside,
we emerge into the afternoon’s conflagration to find the streets
still deserted as a blank-faced town in some science-fiction movie
from the fifties, a movie where something evil, unimaginable —
the Bomb, the Blob, the Thing — has vanished every sign of life.

But this is only Italy, siesta, months before jets scream
across the sky from Aviano to Belgrade, end of a century
in which we’ve managed, so far, not to blow the world away.
It could almost be the Quattrocento, so little seems changed
in the empty piazza, the same sunstruck stones, the same

shut eyes of the houses Piero saw every day, easy to imagine him
just a boy hidden in a shadowed corner of the blacksmith’s shop,
damp curls bent over his drawing, the black mare’s filigreed nostrils,
the way they flared when the metal seared her hoof. But here,
in the present, the museo’s open at three, though today

we’re the only customers. This is what we’ve come for,
our pilgrimage, stifling room giving way to stifling room
until at last here we are in his presence, hers,
Madonna della Misericordia, larger than life the Virgin
spreading her blue cloak — blue, color of mercy — to gather

the faithful inside, spreading her mercy everywhere, mercy enough
to envelop the whole world’s misery, the Quattrocento must have thought.
Now, again, what I feel — here, everywhere — in the street,
sipping an aperitif at a table under the winged maples, or watching
an evening’s passeggiata in the wine-gold summer light, walking

up the streets of Cortona, passing the houses with their little doors
for the plague dead, even strolling Venice’s watery glamour,
touching piles of Fortuny silk, purses heaped in the colors
of every spent dream — everywhere, I feel in my ear the breath of all
who have vanished. Everywhere, the terrible lost present of the past.

Who was that girl who posed for the Virgin, the one
with the placid, lovely face who wore a clock with its lining soft
as gray doves, a bunch of cabauchon rubies blooming at her throat?
The painter must have loved her, I think, he’s painted her everywhere,
in every Virgin’s face, in the sad face of Mary Magdalene, too,

though she’s even lovelier there, more alive — Virgin or Whore,
it doesn’t matter, she’s still his beautiful ideal. I think
he must have forgiven her, whatever she did to him, betrayal
braided into obsession’s silken chord. Who is the one kneeling
at the Virgin’s feet, a child, no more than thirteen, a rich girl

in a high-waisted, long-trained gown, the height of fashion?
Bareheaded, she’s still a virgin — so everyone thinks —
since long ago red-coated cardinals of the church decreed it:
because the angel appeared to Mary and whispered in her ear,
that delicate, pink shell — its labial folds and furls — must be the organ

through which the Christ Child was conceived; so woman’s ears,
in modesty, must be ever after covered. And even now
the girl’s father is out looking for a rich husband old enough
to tame her. Piero might have had her pose like that for hours, alone,
on her knees, on the cold stone, before he toppled her like a statue

falling in a garden, a flutter of goldfinches rising around them,
the scent of oranges and roses. And that man so sinister
behind the confraternity’s black hood? Perhaps he is watching the girl,
her ripening breasts. Perhaps the painter means for him to represent
every secret desire we hide behind the mask of three AM. It’s hard to say.

But I wonder what desires candled in their eyes, brush-fired, burned out
in their hearts? Perhaps the plague passed through them, a lingering storm
blackening their skins, swelling their tongues. Maybe some enemy,
some Guelph or Ghibelline, rode down on their valley, torching
the village, flaming the burnished fields. Their sorrows were certain.

As here, in the museum’s last room, in Piero’s Resurrection,
where he must have seen salvation, I see Christ bursting from the tomb
as a figure sufficient unto himself, the overpowering body, the eyes
cold, arrogant even, eyes that don’t see the soldiers asleep
at his feet, oblivious, ignorant of what has happened,

that the one they were sent to guard is free, that he will hide
his face from them, abandoning them to a future in which
they will surely die for allowing him to flee. One of the soldiers
is dreaming of his beloved, the way her thick black hair falls
across her face. What am I really mourning, time’s patina washing

over everything, the past’s weight heavier on my shoulders
than a plowman’s yoke in some muddy Quattrocento field? What is it,
the vanished before me, the long line of the lost, or my own
inexplicable vanishing, my fifty-third year? Outside,
in the heat-stroked afternoon, the past is still lying everywhere,

even in the dusty patch of ground next to the bus station,
where the town’s old men have clustered their fragile lawn chairs
to watch the passing scene. It’s too late or too hot for them, and so
we occupy their chairs, waiting for the last bus to shuffle us
back across the hills to Arrezzo. It could be the Quattrocento now,

the procession that crosses in front of us, the priest swirling the dust
with his long skirts, a few men in shabby suits, the best they have,
bearing the coffin, and behind them a scraggly group of mourners,
looking neither left nor right as they walk slowly forward.
It could be the Quattrocento, except for the intersection,

which has come to a standstill, the little cars thrumming, dazed,
impatient to be on their way, dreaming of home, soccer
or a game show on TV, maybe a meal, a glass of red wine, perhaps
even a kiss, a lover’s soft breath brushing an arm.
Even now, evening presses her cool cheek to the earth.

—Susan Wood

Image by Mark Slone
Published in: on January 1, 2010 at 2:21 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Way Through The Woods by Rudyard Kipling

Read by Timothy West

Published in: on December 31, 2009 at 9:18 AM  Leave a Comment  
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The Satin Dress by Dorothy Parker

Needle, needle, dip and dart,
Thrusting up and down,
Where’s the man could ease a heart
Like a satin gown?

See the stitches curve and crawl
Round the cunning seams-
Patterns thin and sweet and small
As a lady’s dreams.

Wantons go in bright brocade;
Brides in organdie;
Gingham’s for the plighted maid;
Satin’s for the free!

Wool’s to line a miser’s chest;
Crepe’s to calm the old;
Velvet hides an empty breast
Satin’s for the bold!

Lawn is for a bishop’s yoke;
Linen’s for a nun;
Satin is for wiser folk-
Would the dress were done!

Satin glows in candlelight-
Satin’s for the proud!
They will say who watch at night,
“What a fine shroud!”

—Dorothy Parker

Recited by Dorothy Parker

Published in: on December 30, 2009 at 2:20 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Drunken Boat

As I was floating down impassive Rivers,
I no longer felt myself steered by the haulers:
gaudy Redskins had taken them for targets,
nailing them naked to coloured stakes.

I cared nothing for all my crews,
carrying Flemish wheat or English cotton.
When, along with my haulers, those uproars stopped,
the Rivers let me sail downstream where I pleased.

Into the ferocious tide-rips, last winter,
more absorbed than the minds of children, I ran!
And the unmoored Peninsulas never
endured more triumphant clamourings.

The storm made bliss of my sea-borne awakenings.
Lighter than a cork, I danced on the waves
which men call the eternal rollers of victims,
for ten nights, without once missing the foolish eye of the harbor lights!

Sweeter than the flesh of sour apples to children,
the green water penetrated my pinewood hull
and washed me clean of the bluish wine-stains
and the splashes of vomit, carrying away both rudder and anchor.

And from that time on I bathed in the Poem
of the Sea, star-infused and churned into milk,
devouring the green azures where, entranced
in pallid flotsam, a dreaming drowned man sometimes goes down;

where, suddenly dyeing the blueness,
deliriums and slow rhythms under the gleams of the daylight,
stronger than alcohol, vaster than music,
ferment the bitter rednesses of love!

I have come to know the skies splitting with lightning,
and the waterspouts, and the breakers and currents;
I know the evening, and dawn rising up like a flock of doves,
and sometimes I have seen what men have imagined they saw!

I have seen the low-hanging sun speckled with mystic horrors
lighting up long violet coagulations
like the performers in antique dramas;
waves rolling back into the distances their shiverings of venetian blinds!

I have dreamed of the green night of the dazzled snows,
the kiss rising slowly to the eyes of the seas,
the circulation of undreamed-of saps,
and the yellow-blue awakenings of singing phosphorus!

I have followed, for whole months on end,
the swells battering the reefs like hysterical herds of cows,
never dreaming that the luminous feet of the Marys
could muzzle by force the snorting Oceans!

I have struck, do you realize, incredible Floridas,
where mingle with flowers the eyes of panthers in human skins!
Rainbows stretched like bridles
under the sea’s horizon to glaucous herds!

I have seen the enormous swamps seething,
traps where a whole leviathan rots in the reeds!
Downfalls of waters in the midst of the calm,
and distances cataracting down into abysses!

Glaciers, suns of silver, waves of pearl, skies of red-hot coals!
Hideous wrecks at the bottom of brown gulfs
where the giant snakes, devoured by vermin,
fall from the twisted trees with black odours!

I should have liked to show to children those dolphins
of the blue wave, those golden, those singing fish. —
Foam of flowers rocked my driftings,
and at times ineffable winds would lend me wings.

Sometimes, a martyr weary of poles and zones,
the sea whose sobs sweetened my rollings
lifted my shadow-flowers with their yellow sucking disks toward me,
and I hung there like a kneeling woman…

Resembling an island, tossing on my sides the brawls
and droppings of pale-eyed, clamouring birds.
And I was scudding along when across my frayed ropes
drowned men sank backwards into sleep!…

But now I, a boat lost under the hair of coves,
hurled by the hurricane into the birdless ether;
I, whose wreck, dead-drunk and sodden with water,
neither Monitor nor Hanseatic ships would have fished up;

free, smoking, risen from violet fogs,
I who bored through the wall of the reddening sky which bears
a sweetmeat good poets find delicious:
lichens of sunlight mixed with azure snot;

who ran, speckled with tiny electric moons,
a crazy plank with black sea-horses for escort,
when Julys were crushing with cudgel blows
skies of ultramarine into burning funnels;

I who trembled to feel at fifty leagues off
the groans of Behemoths rutting, and the dense Maelstroms;
eternal spinner of blue immobilities,
I long for Europe with it’s age-old parapets!

I have seen archipelagos of stars! and islands
whose delirious skies are open to sea wanderers: —
Do you sleep, are you exiled in those bottomless nights,
O million golden birds, Life Force of the future?

But, truly, I have wept too much! Dawns are heartbreaking.
Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter:
sharp love has swollen me up with intoxicating torpor.
O let my keel split! O let me sink to the bottom!

If there is one water in Europe I want, it is the black
cold pool where into the scented twilight
a child squatting full of sadness launches
a boat as fragile as a butterfly in May.

I can no more, bathed in your langours, O waves,
sail in the wake of the carriers of cottons;
nor undergo the pride of the flags and pennants;
nor pull past the horrible eyes of prison hulks.

—Arthur Rimbaud

Published in: on December 30, 2009 at 10:08 AM  Leave a Comment  
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The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

—William Butler Yeats

_____________

I had still the ambition, formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree, a little island in Lough Gill and when walking through Fleet Street (in London) very homesick I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water.

From the sudden remembrance came my poem “Innisfree,” my first lyric with anything in its rhythm of my own music.

_____________

Read by William Butler Yeats

Published in: on December 29, 2009 at 12:38 PM  Comments (2)  
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Land of Lost Content

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain:
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

—A. E. Housman

Published in: on December 28, 2009 at 4:56 PM  Leave a Comment  
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La Figlia che Piange [The Weeping Girl]

La Figlia che Piange

O quam te memorem virgo…

STAND on the highest pavement of the stair—
Lean on a garden urn—
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair—
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise—
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.

—T S Eliot

Read by T S Eliot

Published in: on December 28, 2009 at 11:02 AM  Leave a Comment  
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She Walks in Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that ‘s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

—Lord Byron

Read by Martin Jarvis

Published in: on December 27, 2009 at 9:21 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Two Poems

Mistakes

Next door a child’s playing Beethoven’s “Pour Elise.”
One can hear the mistake, all over and over again.
The dogma of infallibility was a faux pas.
On the part of the parasite,
it’s a fatal blunder to kill the host.
It’s also called globalization.

Out of bashfulness, the decisive mistake
hides in a dune of insignificant errors,
being drowned by them. There has never been
a dearth of voices in warning that said:
The world is the incorrigible.

Touching attempts at repair, seals, patches,
fillings, reforms, improvements
with red ink and pentimenti:
they all lead to perfectly novel howlers.

Surely congenital defects and abortions
are totally different.
But the work, too, goes amiss,
the request, the color, the start,
the kick and the ignition.

A Milky Way of aberrations
which is surprising. All in all,
what results from it is a miracle.

An Optimistic Ditty

It does happen, now and then,
that somebody cries for help.
At once, someone else leaps into
the water, absolutely for nothing.

In the thick of fattest capitalism,
the glinting fire truck turns the corner
and quenches the flames, or silver shines
from the beggar’s hat all of a sudden.

Every morning the streets are teeming
with people who run back and forth, without
drawn knives, just at their leisure,
in search of milk and radishes.

As in the midst of peace.

A glorious spectacle.

—Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Published in: on December 26, 2009 at 1:26 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Song to be Sung by the Father of Infant Female Children

Read by the Poet Ogden Nash

Published in: on December 26, 2009 at 9:28 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Lament by Dylan Thomas

When I was a windy boy and a bit
And the black spit of the chapel fold,
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of women),
I tiptoed shy in the gooseberry wood,
The rude owl cried like a telltale tit,
I skipped in a blush as the big girls rolled
Ninepin down on the donkeys’ common,
And on seesaw sunday nights I wooed
Whoever I would with my wicked eyes,
The whole of the moon I could love and leave
All the green leaved little weddings’ wives
In the coal black bush and let them grieve.

When I was a gusty man and a half
And the black beast of the beetles’ pews,
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of bitches),
Not a boy and a bit in the wick
Dipping moon and drunk as a new dropped calf,
I whistled all night in the twisted flues,
Midwives grew in the midnight ditches,
And the sizzling beds of the town cried, Quick!—
Whenever I dove in a breast high shoal,
Wherever I ramped in the dover quilts,
Whatsoever I did in the coal
Black night, I left my quivering prints.

When I was a man you could call a man
And the black cross of the holy house,
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of welcome),
Brandy and ripe in my bright, bass prime,
No springtailed tom in the red hot town
With every simmering woman his mouse
But a hillocky bull in the swelter
Of summer come in his great good time
To the sultry, biding herds, I said,
Oh, time enough when the blood creeps cold,
And I lie down but to sleep in bed,
For my sulking, skulking, coal black soul!

When I was a half of the man I was
And serve me right as the preachers warn,
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of downfall),
No flailing calf or cat in a flame
Or hickory bull in milky grass
But a black sheep with a crumpled horn,
At last the soul from its foul mousehole
Slung pouting out when the limp time came;
And I gave my soul a blind, slashed eye,
Gristle and rind, and a roarers’ life,
And I shoved it into the coal black sky
To find a woman’s soul for a wife.

Now I am a man no more no more
And a black reward for a roaring life,
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of strangers),
Tidy and cursed in my dove cooed room
I lie down thin and hear the good bells jaw
For, oh, my soul found a sunday wife
In the coal black sky and she bore angels!
Harpies around me out of her womb!
Chastity prays for me, piety sings,
Innocence sweetens my last black breath,
Modesty hides my thighs in her wings,
And all the deadly virtues plague my death!

—Dylan Thomas

Read by Philip Madoc

Published in: on December 25, 2009 at 1:15 PM  Leave a Comment  
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In a Secondhand Bookshop

What waits me on these shelves? I cannot guess,
But feel the sure foreboding; there will cry
A voice of human laughter or distress,
A word that no one needs as much as I.

For always where old books are sold and bought
There comes that twinge of dreadful subtlety
These words were actual, and they were thought
By someone who was once alive, like me.

—Christopher Morley

Published in: on December 25, 2009 at 11:50 AM  Leave a Comment  
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The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

—Robert Frost

Read by Robert Frost

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 9:02 AM  Leave a Comment  
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