Bread and Hyacinths

Poems that move the body, engage the emotions, and feed the soul.

Bread and Hyacinths

Bread and Hyacinths
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Red Poppy
Tess Gallagher, 1943
That linkage of warnings sent a tremor through June 
as if to prepare October in the hardest apples. 
One week in late July we held hands 
through the bars of his hospital bed. Our sleep 
made a canopy over us and it seemed I heard 
its durable roaring in the companion sleep 
of what must have been our Bedouin god, and now 
when the poppy lets go I know it is to lay bare 
his thickly seeded black coach
at the pinnacle of dying.

My shaggy ponies heard the shallow snapping of silk 
but grazed on down the hillside, their prayer flags 
tearing at the void-what we
stared into, its cool flux
of blue and white. How just shaking at flies 
they sprinkled the air with the soft unconscious praise 
of bells braided into their manes. My life

simplified to "for him" and his thinned like an injection 
wearing off so the real gave way to
the more-than-real, each moment's carmine 
abundance, furl of reddest petals
lifted from the stalk and no hint of the black 
hussar's hat at the center. By then his breathing stopped 
so gradually I had to brush lips to know
an ending. Tasting then that plush of scarlet 
which is the last of warmth, kissless kiss
he would have given. Mine to extend a lover's right past its radius, 
to give and also most needfully, my gallant hussar, 
to bend and take.
Bread and Hyacinths
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Crossroads
Joyce Sutphen
The second half of my life will be black 
to the white rind of the old and fading moon. 
The second half of my life will be water 
over the cracked floor of these desert years. 
I will land on my feet this time, 
knowing at least two languages and who 
my friends are. I will dress for the 
occasion, and my hair shall be 
whatever color I please.
Everyone will go on celebrating the old 
birthday, counting the years as usual, 
but I will count myself new from this 
inception, this imprint of my own desire.

The second half of my life will be swift, 
past leaning fenceposts, a gravel shoulder, 
asphalt tickets, the beckon of open road. 
The second half of my life will be wide-eyed, 
fingers shifting through fine sands, 
arms loose at my sides, wandering feet. 
There will be new dreams every night, 
and the drapes will never be closed. 
I will toss my string of keys into a deep 
well and old letters into the grate.

The second half of my life will be ice
breaking up on the river, rain
soaking the fields, a hand
held out, a fire,
and smoke going
upward, always up.
Bread and Hyacinths
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First Gestures
Julia Spicher Kasdorf, 1962
Among the first we learn is good-bye, 
your tiny wrist between Dad's forefinger 
and thumb forced to wave bye-bye to Mom, 
whose hand sails brightly behind a windshield. 
Then it's done to make us follow:
in a crowded mall, a woman waves, "Bye, 
we're leaving," and her son stands firm 
sobbing, until at last he runs after her, 
among shoppers drifting like sharks 
who must drag their great hulks 
underwater, even in sleep, or drown.

Living, we cover vast territories; 
imagine your life drawn on a map-- 
a scribble on the town where you grew up, 
each bus trip traced between school 
and home, or a clean line across the sea 
to a place you flew once. Think of the time 
and things we accumulate, all the while growing 
more conscious of losing and leaving. Aging, 
our bodies collect wrinkles and scars 
for each place the world would not give 
under our weight. Our thoughts get laced 
with strange aches, sweet as the final chord 
that hangs in a guitar's blond torso.

Think how a particular ridge of hills 
from a summer of your childhood grows
in significance, or one hour of light-- 
late afternoon, say, when thick sun flings 
the shadow of Virginia creeper vines 
across the wall of a tiny, white room 
where a girl makes love for the first time. 
Its leaves tremble like small hands 
against the screen while she weeps 
in the arms of her bewildered lover. 
She's too young to see that as we gather 
losses, we may also grow in love; 
as in passion, the body shudders 
and clutches what it must release.
Bread and Hyacinths
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Blur
Andrew Hudgins
Storms of perfume lift from honeysuckle,
lilac, clover—and drift across the threshold,
outside reclaiming inside as its home.
Warm days whirl in a bright unnumberable blur,
a cup—a grail brimmed with delirium
and humbling boredom both.  I was a boy,
I thought I'd always be a boy, pell—mell,
mean, and gaily murderous one moment
as I decapitated daises with a stick,
then overcome with summer's opium,
numb—slumberous.  I thought I'd always be a boy,
each day its own millennium, each
one thousand years of daylight ending in
the night watch, summer's pervigilium,
which I could never keep because by sunset
I was an old man.  I was Methuselah,
the oldest man in the holy book.  I drowsed.
I nodded, slept—and without my watching, the world,
whose permanence I doubted, returned again,
bluebell and blue jay, speedwell and cardinal
still there when the light swept back,
and so was I, which I had also doubted.
I understood with horror then with joy,
dubious and luminous joy: it simply spins.
It doesn't need my feet to make it turn.
It doesn't even need my eyes to watch it,
and I, though a latecomer to its surface, I'd
be leaving early.  It was my duty to stay awake
and sing if I could keep my mind on singing,
not extinction, as blurred green summer, lifted
to its apex, succumbed to gravity and fell
to autumn, Ilium, and ashes.  In joy
we are our own uncomprehending mourners,
and more than joy I longed for understanding
and more than understanding I longed for joy.
Bread and Hyacinths
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City That Does Not Sleep
Federico García Lorca, 1898 - 1936
In the sky there is nobody asleep.  Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins.
The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the 
            street corner
the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the
            stars.

Nobody is asleep on earth.  Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
In a graveyard far off there is a corpse
who has moaned for three years
because of a dry countryside on his knee;
and that boy they buried this morning cried so much
it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.

Life is not a dream.  Careful!  Careful!  Careful!
We fall down the stairs in order to eat the moist earth
or we climb to the knife edge of the snow with the voices of the dead
            dahlias.
But forgetfulness does not exist, dreams do not exist;
flesh exists.  Kisses tie our mouths
in a thicket of new veins,
and whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever
and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.

One day 
the horses will live in the saloons
and the enraged ants
will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the
            eyes of cows.

Another day
we will watch the preserved butterflies rise from the dead
and still walking through a country of gray sponges and silent boats
we will watch our ring flash and roses spring from our tongue.
Careful!  Be careful!  Be careful!
The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
and that boy who cries because he has never heard of the invention 
            of the bridge,
or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe,
we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes
            are waiting,
where the bear's teeth are waiting,
where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting,
and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.

Nobody is sleeping in the sky.  Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is sleeping.
If someone does close his eyes,
a whip, boys, a whip!
Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world.  No one, no one.
I have said it before.

No one is sleeping.
But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the
            night,
open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.
Bread and Hyacinths
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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Wallace Stevens, 1879 - 1955

I

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

II

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

III

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

IV

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

V

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

VI

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

VII

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

VIII

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

IX

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

X

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

XI

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

XII

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII

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

Bread and Hyacinths
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One Art
Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant 
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.


—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied.  It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Bread and Hyacinths
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The Leaving
Brigit Pegeen Kelly
My father said I could not do it,
but all night I picked the peaches.
The orchard was still, the canals ran steadily.
I was a girl then, my chest its own walled garden.
How many ladders to gather an orchard?
I had only one and a long patience with lit hands
and the looking of the stars which moved right through me
the way the water moved through the canals with a voice
that seemed to speak of this moonless gathering
and those who had gathered before me.
I put the peaches in the pond's cold water,
all night up the ladder and down, all night my hands
twisting fruit as if I were entering a thousand doors,
all night my back a straight road to the sky.
And then out of its own goodness, out
of the far fields of the stars, the morning came,
and inside me was the stillness a bell possesses
just after it has been rung, before the metal
begins to long again for the clapper's stroke.
The light came over the orchard.
The canals were silver and then were not.
and the pond was--I could see as I laid
the last peach in the water--full of fish and eyes.
Bread and Hyacinths
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Failing and Flying
Jack Gilbert, 1925 - 2012

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Bread and Hyacinths
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Barter
Sara Teasdale, 1884 - 1933
Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And childrens's faces looking up
Holding wonder in a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstacy
Give all you have been, or could be.
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Forced Bloom
David Baker, 1954
1.

Such pleasure one needs to make for oneself. 
She has snipped the paltry forsythia 
to force the bloom, has cut each stem on 
the slant and sprinkled brown sugar in a vase, 
so the wintered reeds will take their water. 
It hurts her to do this but she does it. 
When are we most ourselves, and when the least? 
Last night, the man in the recessed doorway, 
homeless or searching for something, or sought—
all he needed was one hand and quiet. 
The city around him was one small room. 
He leaned into the dark portal, gray 
shade in a door, a shadow of himself. 
His eyes were closed. His rhythm became him. 
So we have shut our eyes, as dead or as 
other, and held the thought of another 
whose pleasure is need, face over a face ... 

2. 

It hurts her to use her hands, to hold 
a cup or bud or touch a thing. The doctors 
have turned her burning hands in their hands. 
The tests have shown a problem, but no cause, 
a neuropathology of mere touch. 
We have all made love in the dark, small room 
of such need, without shame, to our comfort, 
our compulsion. I know I have. She has. 
We have held or helped each other, sometimes 
watching from the doorway of a warm house 
where candletips of new growth light the walls, 
the city in likeness beyond, our hands 
on the swollen damp branch or bud or cup. 
Sometimes we are most ourselves when we are 
least, or hurt, or lost, face over a face—. 
You have, too. It's your secret, your delight. 
You smell the wild scent all day on your hand. 
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Words and the Diminution of All Things
Charles Wright, 1935

The brief secrets are still here,
                            and the light has come back. 
The word remember touches my hand,
But I shake it off and watch the turkey buzzards bank and wheel
Against the occluded sky.
All of the little names sink down,
                            weighted with what is invisible,
But no one will utter them, no one will smooth their rumpled hair. 

There isn't much time, in any case.
There isn't much left to talk about
                            as the year deflates.
There isn't a lot to add.
Road-worn, December-colored, they cluster like unattractive angels
Wherever a thing appears,
Crisp and unspoken, unspeakable
                            in their mute and glittering garb.

All afternoon the clouds have been sliding toward us
                                      out of the
      Blue Ridge.
All afternoon the leaves have scuttled
Across the sidewalk and driveway, clicking their clattery claws.
And now the evening is over us,
Small slices of silence
                  running under a dark rain,
Wrapped in a larger.
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Shawl
Albert Goldbarth, 1948
Eight hours by bus, and night
was on them. He could see himself now
in the window, see his head there with the country
running through it like a long thought made of steel and wheat.
Darkness outside; darkness in the bus—as if the sea
were dark and the belly of the whale were dark to match it.
He was twenty: of course his eyes returned, repeatedly,
to the knee of the woman two rows up: positioned so
occasional headlights struck it into life.
But more reliable was the book; he was discovering himself
to be among the tribe that reads. Now his, the only
overhead turned on. Now nothing else existed:
only him, and the book, and the light thrown over his shoulders
as luxuriously as a cashmere shawl.
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Coming Close
Philip Levine, 1928
Take this quiet woman, she has been
standing before a polishing wheel
for over three hours, and she lacks
twenty minutes before she can take
a lunch break. Is she a woman?
Consider the arms as they press
the long brass tube against the buffer,
they are striated along the triceps,
the three heads of which clearly show.
Consider the fine dusting of dark down
above the upper lip, and the beads
of sweat that run from under the red
kerchief across the brow and are wiped
away with a blackening wrist band
in one odd motion a child might make
to say No! No! You must come closer
to find out, you must hang your tie
and jacket in one of the lockers
in favor of a black smock, you must
be prepared to spend shift after shift
hauling off the metal trays of stock,
bowing first, knees bent for a purchase, 
then lifting with a gasp, the first word 
of tenderness between the two of you,
then you must bring new trays of dull
unpolished tubes. You must feed her,
as they say in the language of the place.
Make no mistake, the place has a language,
and if by some luck the power were cut,
the wheel slowed to a stop so that you
suddenly saw it was not a solid object
but so many separate bristles forming
in motion a perfect circle, she would turn
to you and say, "Why?" Not the old why
of why must I spend five nights a week?
Just, "Why?" Even if by some magic 
you knew, you wouldn't dare speak
for fear of her laughter, which now
you have anyway as she places the five
tapering fingers of her filthy hand
on the arm of your white shirt to mark
you for your own, now and forever.
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The Conjugation of the Paramecium
Muriel Rukeyser, 1913 - 1980
This has nothing
to do with
propagating

The species
is continued
as so many are
(among the smaller creatures)
by fission

(and this species
is very small
next in order to
the amoeba, the beginning one)

The paramecium
achieves, then,
immortality
by dividing

But when
the paramecium
desires renewal
strength another joy
this is what 
the paramecium does:

The paramecium
lies down beside
another paramecium

Slowly inexplicably
the exchange
takes place
in which
some bits
of the nucleus of each
are exchanged

for some bits 
of the nucleus
of the other

This is called
the conjugation of the paramecium.
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Moon Gathering
Eleanor Wilner, 1937
And they will gather by the well,
its dark water a mirror to catch whatever
stars slide by in the slow precession of
the skies, the tilting dome of time, 
over all, a light mist like a scrim,
and here and there some clouds
that will open at the last and let
the moon shine through; it will be 
at the wheel's turning, when
three zeros stand like paw-prints
in the snow; it will be a crescent
moon, and it will shine up from
the dark water like a silver hook
without a fish--until, as we lean closer, 
swimming up from the well, something
dark but glowing, animate, like live coals--
it is our own eyes staring up at us,
as the moon sets its hook;
and they, whose dim shapes are no more
than what we will become, take up
their long-handled dippers
of brass, and one by one, they catch
the moon in the cup-shaped bowls,
and they raise its floating light
to their lips, and with it, they drink back
our eyes, burning with desire to see
into the gullet of night: each one
dips and drinks, and dips, and drinks, 
until there is only dark water,
until there is only the dark.
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Summer X-Rays
Nina Cassian
I.

Fabulous days
with endless swims,
with algae around my waist
and convex tears on my cheeks.

Far away on the shore:
children shouting,
dogs with golden rings
circling their muzzles,
and rumors of abandoned memories.

I know what's awaiting me—
the winter of my discontent.
I have a reservation
outside on a hard bench
holding a bag of frostbitten potatoes.

That's why I swim so far out,
willing prisoner
inside the sea's immense green magnifying glass.


II.

Despite all my inner crumblings,
I'm still able to recognize a perfect day:
sea without shadow,
sky without wrinkles,
air hovering over me like a blessing.

How did this day escape
the aggressor's edicts?
I'm not entitled to it, 
my well-being is not permitted.

Drunk, as with some hint of freedom,
we bump into each other,
and laugh raucously
on an acutely superstitious scale
knowing that it's forbidden.

Could it be just a trap
this perfection
this impeccable air,
this water unpolluted by fear?

Let's savor it as long as we can:
quickly, quickly, quickly.
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A Blessing
James Wright, 1927 - 1980

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Poetry Valentines   Browse all six free cards

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Night on the Great River [three translations]
Meng Hao-jan
(I)

Steering my little boat towards a misty islet,
I watch the sun descend while my sorrows grow:
In the vast night the sky hangs lower than the treetops,
But in the blue lake the moon is coming close.

[translated by William Carlos Williams]

(II)

Night on the Great River

We anchor the boat alongside a hazy island.
As the sun sets I am overwhelmed with nostalgia.
The plain stretches away without limit.
The sky is just above the tree tops.
The river flows quietly by.
The moon comes down amongst men.

[translated by Kenneth Rexroth]

(III)

Mooring on Chien-te River

The boat rocks at anchor by the misty island
Sunset, my loneliness comes again.
In these vast wilds the sky arches down to the trees.
In the clear river water, the moon draws near.

[translated by Gary Snyder]
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Picking Up
Evelyn Duncan
During the depression
my mother, teetotaler,
but thrifty to a fault,
surprised my father and me
when she cobbled up a still,
kept it on a shelf behind the kitchen stove,
and salvaged a crate of too-ripe pears
by making brandy, pouring it into Mason jars,
and storing them on the cellar stairs.

When my father found a better job at last,
and movers came one day to move our stuff,
"A shame to have this go to waste," we heard my mother say,
offering them the brandy, which they polished off.
They soon grew happy at their work,
hanging a chamber pot and her Sunday dress
on outside panels of their battered truck
and speeding off into the dusk
before she could protest.

We closed the house, cranked the Model-A, and started out,
following over stony mountain ruts,
but soon were stopping now and then
when headlights showed familiar shapes
lying in the road or ditch: first
the chamber pot and dress; next, 
a chair, a bucket, and a box of sheets.
But drunk with hope, we praised our luck,
sang "Bringing in the Sheaves"
as we collected what the truck had dropped.
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My Mojave
Donald Revell, 1954
Sha-
Dow,
As of
A meteor
At mid-
Day: it goes
From there.

A perfect circle falls
Onto white imperfections.
(Consider the black road,
How it seems white the entire
Length of a sunshine day.)

Or I could say
Shadows and mirage
Compensate the world, 
Completing its changes
With no change.

In the morning after a storm,
We used brooms. Out front,
There was broken glass to collect.
In the backyard, the sand
Was covered with transparent wings. 
The insects could not use them in the wind
And so abandoned them. Why
Hadn't the wings scattered? Why
Did they lie so stilly where they'd dropped?
It can only be the wind passed through them.

Jealous lover,
Your desire
Passes the same way.

And jealous earth,
There is a shadow you cannot keep
To yourself alone.
At midday,
My soul wants only to go
The black road which is the white road.
I'm not needed 
Like wings in a storm, 
And God is the storm. 
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Witness
Liz Waldner
I saw that a star had broken its rope
in the stables of heaven—

This homeless one will find her home
in the foothills of a green century.

Who sleeps beside still waters, wakes.
The terrestrial hands of the heaven clock

comb out the comet's tangled mane
and twelve strands float free.

In the absence of light and gravity,
slowly as dust, or the continents' drift,

sinuous, they twine a text,
one letter to an eon:

I am the dawn horse.
Ride me.
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Completely Friday
Luis García Montero
By the detergents and dish soap
by the orderly books and broom on the floor,
by the clean windows, by the table
without papers, notebooks or pens,
by the easy chairs without newspapers,
whoever approaches my house
will find a day
that is completely Friday.

That is how I find it
when I go out into the streets
and the cathedral has been
taken over by the world of the living
and in the supermarket
June becomes a bottle of gin,
sausages and dessert,
fan of light in the kiosk
of the flower shop,
city that undresses completely Friday.

As does my body
which recalls the memory of your body
and foretells your presence
in the restlessness of all it touches,
in the remote control for the music,
in the paper of the magazine,
in the ice melted away
just as the morning melts away
completely Friday.

When the front door opens
the icebox divines what my body knew
and suggests other titles for this poem:
completely you,
morning of the return, good love,
good company.
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Girl
Eve Alexandra
Be careful if you take this flower into your house. The 
peony has a thousand lips. It is pink and white like the lady’s 
skirt and smells sharp and sweet as cinnamon. There are a 
thousand ants living inside but you will only see one or two at 
a time. I am like that down there--pink and busy inside. The 
dark is a bolt of cloth, crushed and blue, and I unfurl against it. 
If you lie down on the floor of the closet the hems of silk will 
lick you. My own gown is thin as the skin of dried grass so I 
can see the ants dancing down there. The night has big paws. 
I imagine the wool of the bears, the cloth of monkeys. the night 
smells like vetiver and cedar. His mouth is cool with mint and 
warm with rum, and I am not afraid as he rubs his wool against 
me. I saw the bear dancing at the circus when I was small. He 
was wearing a green felt cap with gold bric-a-brac and kept by 
a thin wire thread. My brother bought me a sucker for the train 
ride home, and I am like that now on the inside, burning soft 
with lemon. What fruit do you like best? I like tangerines. 
And the night leaves me these. A small paper bag on the bedside 
table. The wrought iron and roses like an altar. I am glowing now. 
My teeth are stitching kisses to my fist. I go to the river. My legs 
are frogs legs. Tiny wands, see how they glisten. A thousand fish 
swim through me. I am a boat now. I know no anchor. My hair 
unfurls, copper and cinnamon. Look how it opens, beautiful world. 
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Hardware Sparrows
R. T. Smith
Out for a deadbolt, light bulbs 
and two-by-fours, I find a flock 
of sparrows safe from hawks

and weather under the roof 
of Lowe's amazing discount 
store. They skitter from the racks

of stockpiled posts and hoses 
to a spill of winter birdseed 
on the concrete floor. How

they know to forage here, 
I can't guess, but the automatic 
door is close enough,

and we've had a week 
of storms. They are, after all, 
ubiquitous, though poor,

their only song an irritating 
noise, and yet they soar 
to offer, amid hardware, rope

and handyman brochures, 
some relief, as if a flurry 
of notes from Mozart swirled

from seed to ceiling, entreating 
us to set aside our evening 
chores and take grace where

we find it, saying it is possible, 
even in this month of flood, 
blackout and frustration,

to float once more on sheer 
survival and the shadowy 
bliss we exist to explore.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
One A.M. [excerpt]
David Young
You'll show that toad-eater who wrote Night Thoughts 
what's happened in two centuries or so.

You'll make your yard the spirit's doorway 
to metamorphs and comet-lit inventions.

Go ahead, walk the cathedral-volumned night. 
Let Perseids stripe your eyes.


                    *

					
I read the other day
that giant black snowballs from outer space 
created our oceans.

Center me, physics, keep me 
from brooding too long on my fear, 
on the pickup truck that rammed the school bus, 
on the strange sea pastures of the Persian Gulf, 
on love and its string of losses.

Now everything's strings, they say, cosmic strings 
that pull the galaxies toward the Great Attractor
holding all matter together.

Microcosm, meet macrocosm. 
Solace us with your kinship, make 
one little yard an everywhere.

I think of Calvino's 
dark, humorous mind, 
another squirrel in the treetops--
how he made truth and wit 
from troubling loops of knowledge.

And Miroslav Holub, 
who lived alone in this house one spring 
and pondered this yard as I do. 
The appetite for fact
helped him survive, walk around 
and laugh to himself, inside 
this century's bluntest terrors-- 
the one that Hitler made, 
the one that Stalin added.

A string may link me to them here, 
and run
right through the blackened school bus, 
the rubble of Beirut, 
down to the toxic wastes, on up and out 
to the ice ball punching our atmosphere--

Like Theseus in his labyrinth, 
I stand here holding
my little end of string.


                     *


I caught and cupped a firefly just now 
like an old miser blowing on his palms 
to keep some warmth in.

I'd like that glow to be
The milky streams of star-mess overhead, 
the rivulets of words below,

nacreous teeth of the speaker in the dark 
words folding into the spiral that runs up

to the coiled shape of galaxies
as the brain whorls match the labyrinthine curves,

echoing stairwell, spinning DNA,
the play with nests and shrinking models,

the sidewise slide, the folding-up of sense, 
the web the spider swings and spins, connecting.


                     *


Is this a dream?--I see my grandpa milking, 
I watch my mother watching him.
The cats swarm round, the barn is cold, 
the cows chew steadily and stamp 
in random patterns, defecate 
in flops and splatters, steaming heaps.

I'm the froth of the milk, the silvery pail, 
the piles of hay, the cats 
spiraling round my legs. 
I am the frost-coated lightning rod.

We play with infinity, this is our luck,
measureless measuring, lot lines and boundaries 
always deferred, always potential, 
doing, undoing, doing, undoing, 
we repeat ourselves so infinity
can make love to finity, kiss it, 
dance with it all night.

I taste the water from that old farm's well. 
The milk was warm. The water's hard and sweet.


                    *


Repetition's magic. I knew it in my bones. 
Let me repeat my dream for you, 
let me repeat it for myself.

Let me talk on in this starlight, 
these meteor streakings of nonsense, 
this chaos, these fractals and freckles.

Don't take my words away from me yet. 
I'm doing my midnight weeding, 
grasping the thistles close to the root,

I'm losing the dream farm, I'm 
probably failing, repeating 
what others have said-- 

but that farm, like an old brown photograph
suddenly filling the senses-- 
and this night, like a silver gelatin print--

and a string that runs from me to the past:
the view from the farmhouse window 
across the silent fields of snow.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
The Layers
Stanley Kunitz, 1905 - 2006
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.  
Bread and Hyacinths
next
The Moose
Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979

For Grace Bulmer Bowers

From narrow provinces
of fish and bread and tea,
home of the long tides
where the bay leaves the sea
twice a day and takes
the herrings long rides,

where if the river
enters or retreats 
in a wall of brown foam
depends on if it meets
the bay coming in,
the bay not at home;

where, silted red,
sometimes the sun sets
facing a red sea,
and others, veins the flats'
lavender, rich mud
in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,
down rows of sugar maples,
past clapboard farmhouses
and neat, clapboard churches,
bleached, ridged as clamshells,
past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon
a bus journeys west,
the windshield flashing pink,
pink glancing off of metal,
brushing the dented flank
of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,
and waits, patient, while
a lone traveller gives
kisses and embraces
to seven relatives
and a collie supervises.

Goodbye to the elms,
to the farm, to the dog.
The bus starts.  The light
grows richer; the fog,
shifting, salty, thin,
comes closing in.

Its cold, round crystals
form and slide and settle
in the white hens' feathers,
in gray glazed cabbages,
on the cabbage roses
and lupins like apostles;

the sweet peas cling
to their wet white string
on the whitewashed fences;
bumblebees creep
inside the foxgloves,
and evening commences.

One stop at Bass River.
Then the Economies 
Lower, Middle, Upper;
Five Islands, Five Houses,
where a woman shakes a tablecloth
out after supper.

A pale flickering.  Gone.
The Tantramar marshes 
and the smell of salt hay.
An iron bridge trembles 
and a loose plank rattles
but doesn't give way.

On the left, a red light
swims through the dark:
a ship's port lantern.
Two rubber boots show,
illuminated, solemn.
A dog gives one bark.

A woman climbs in 
with two market bags,
brisk, freckled, elderly.
"A grand night.  Yes, sir,
all the way to Boston."
She regards us amicably.

Moonlight as we enter 
the New Brunswick woods,
hairy, scratchy, splintery;
moonlight and mist
caught in them like lamb's wool
on bushes in a pasture.

The passengers lie back.
Snores.  Some long sighs.
A dreamy divagation
begins in the night,
a gentle, auditory,
slow hallucination. . . .

In the creakings and noises,
an old conversation
--not concerning us,
but recognizable, somewhere,
back in the bus:
Grandparents' voices

uninterruptedly
talking, in Eternity:
names being mentioned,
things cleared up finally;
what he said, what she said,
who got pensioned;

deaths, deaths and sicknesses;
the year he remarried;
the year (something) happened.
She died in childbirth.
That was the son lost
when the schooner foundered.

He took to drink. Yes.
She went to the bad.
When Amos began to pray
even in the store and
finally the family had
to put him away.

"Yes . . ." that peculiar
affirmative.  "Yes . . ."
A sharp, indrawn breath,
half groan, half acceptance,
that means "Life's like that.
We know it (also death)."

Talking the way they talked 
in the old featherbed,
peacefully, on and on,
dim lamplight in the hall,
down in the kitchen, the dog
tucked in her shawl.

Now, it's all right now
even to fall asleep
just as on all those nights.
--Suddenly the bus driver
stops with a jolt,
turns off his lights.

A moose has come out of 
the impenetrable wood
and stands there, looms, rather,
in the middle of the road.
It approaches; it sniffs at
the bus's hot hood.

Towering, antlerless,
high as a church,
homely as a house
(or, safe as houses).
A man's voice assures us
"Perfectly harmless. . . ."

Some of the passengers
exclaim in whispers,
childishly, softly,
"Sure are big creatures."
"It's awful plain."
"Look! It's a she!"

Taking her time,
she looks the bus over,
grand, otherworldly.
Why, why do we feel
(we all feel) this sweet
sensation of joy?

"Curious creatures,"
says our quiet driver,
rolling his r's.
"Look at that, would you."
Then he shifts gears.
For a moment longer,

by craning backward,
the moose can be seen
on the moonlit macadam;
then there's a dim
smell of moose, an acrid
smell of gasoline.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
After Making Love We Hear Footsteps
Galway Kinnell, 1927 - 2014
For I can snore like a bullhorn 
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman 
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash, 
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house 
and he will wrench himself awake 
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together, 
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies, 
familiar touch of the long-married, 
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens, 
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep, 
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other 
and smile
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making, 
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake, 
this blessing love gives again into our arms.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Imagining Starry
Marie Ponsot, 1921
The place of language is the place between me

and the world of presences I have lost

—complex country, not flat. Its elements free-

float, coherent for luck to come across;

its lines curve as in a mental orrery

implicit with stars in active orbit,

only their slowness or swiftness lost to sense.

The will dissolves here. It becomes the infinite

air of imagination that stirs immense

among losses and leaves me less desolate.

Breathing it I spot a sentence or a name,

a rescuer, charted for recovery,

to speak against the daily sinking flame

& the shrinking waters of the mortal sea.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Untitled [Each time I go outside]
Ted Kooser, 1939
Each time I go outside
the world is different. 
This has happened all my life.

*

The clock stopped at 5:30 
for three months.
Now it's always time to quit work,
have a drink, cook dinner.

*

"What I would do for wisdom,"
I cried out as a young man.
Evidently not much. Or so it seems.
Even on walks I follow the dog.

*

Old friend,	
perhaps we work too hard	
at being remembered. 
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Problems with Hurricanes
Victor Hernández Cruz, 1949
A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it's not the wind
or the noise or the water.
I'll tell you he said:
it's the mangoes, avocados
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.

How would your family
feel if they had to tell
The generations that you
got killed by a flying
Banana.

Death by drowning has honor
If the wind picked you up
and slammed you
Against a mountain boulder
This would not carry shame
But
to suffer a mango smashing
Your skull
or a plantain hitting your
Temple at 70 miles per hour
is the ultimate disgrace.

The campesino takes off his hat—
As a sign of respect
toward the fury of the wind
And says:
Don't worry about the noise
Don't worry about the water
Don't worry about the wind—
If you are going out
beware of mangoes
And all such beautiful
sweet things.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Unbidden
Rae Armantrout, 1947
The ghosts swarm.
They speak as one
person. Each
loves you. Each
has left something
undone.

          •

Did the palo verde
blush yellow
all at once?

Today's edges
are so sharp

they might cut
anything that moved.

          •

The way a lost 
word

will come back
unbidden.

You're not interested
in it now,

only
in knowing
where it's been.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Telling the Bees
Deborah Digges, 1950 - 2009
It fell to me to tell the bees, 
though I had wanted another duty—
to be the scribbler at his death, 
there chart the third day's quickening. 
But fate said no, it falls to you 
to tell the bees, the middle daughter. 
So it was written at your birth. 
I wanted to keep the fire, working 
the constant arranging and shifting 
of the coals blown flaring, 
my cheeks flushed red, 
my bed laid down before the fire, 
myself anonymous among the strangers
there who'd come and go. 
But destiny said no. It falls 
to you to tell the bees, it said. 
I wanted to be the one to wash his linens, 
boiling the death-soiled sheets, 
using the waters for my tea. 
I might have been the one to seal 
his solitude with mud and thatch and string, 
the webs he parted every morning, 
the hounds' hair combed from brushes, 
the dust swept into piles with sparrows' feathers. 
Who makes the laws that live 
inside the brick and mortar of a name, 
selects the seeds, garden or wild, 
brings forth the foliage grown up around it 
through drought or blight or blossom,
the honey darkening in the bitter years,
the combs like funeral lace or wedding veils 
steeped in oak gall and rainwater, 
sequined of rent wings. 
And so arrayed I set out, this once
obedient, toward the hives' domed skeps 
on evening's hill, five tombs alight. 
I thought I heard the thrash and moaning 
of confinement, beyond the century, 
a calling across dreams, 
as if asked to make haste just out of sleep. 
I knelt and waited. 
The voice that found me gave the news. 
Up flew the bees toward his orchards.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Lot's Wife
Anna Akhmatova
And the just man trailed God's shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
"It's not too late, you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty windows set in the tall house
where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed."

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound . . .
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Let Evening Come
Jane Kenyon, 1947 - 1995
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles 
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come. 
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Buddha with a Cell Phone
David Romtvedt

The dark sky opens and it starts to rain. I go outside
to stand in the stream, the longed-for gift of water
where it hasn’t rained for so long. I shout and dance
with the dog, who puts his ears back and licks my nose.
When we come back in, he shakes and I do too,
a few drops flying off my hair. I notice the Buddha
sitting on my desk. He’s a rubber Buddha
in a yellow robe. If you squeeze him he squeaks.
He’s got a radiant smile on his face, his eyebrows
happy half-moons over his eyes. As I stare at him
my wife walks by and with a cheery Buddha-like glint says,
“It’s raining.” In his right hand the Buddha’s got a cappuccino
and in his left a cell phone pressed to his ear.
His lips are closed so I know he’s listening, not talking.
One more thing—I pick up a little kaleidoscope
lying next to the Buddha and lift it to my eye to look outside.
I thought it would make the raindrops glitter
through the autumn-dry corn but instead what I see
looks like the ceiling of a great cathedral.
I whirl around and am presented with the image
of a thousand rubber Buddhas, each one
a drop of rain, falling, ready to hit the ground.

Bread and Hyacinths
next
My Shoes
Charles Simic, 1938
Shoes, secret face of my inner life:
Two gaping toothless mouths,
Two partly decomposed animal skins
Smelling of mice-nests.

My brother and sister who died at birth
Continuing their existence in you,
Guiding my life
Toward their incomprehensible innocence.

What use are books to me
When in you it is possible to read
The Gospel of my life on earth
And still beyond, of things to come?

I want to proclaim the religion
I have devised for your perfect humility
And the strange church I am building
With you as the altar.

Ascetic and maternal, you endure:
Kin to oxen, to Saints, to condemned men,
With your mute patience, forming
The only true likeness of myself.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
9773 Comanche Ave.
David Trinidad
In color photographs, my childhood house looks
fresh as an uncut sheet cake—
pale yellow buttercream, ribbons of white trim

squeezed from the grooved tip of a pastry tube.
Whose dream was this confection?
This suburb of identical, pillow-mint homes?

The sky, too, is pastel. Children roller skate
down the new sidewalk. Fathers stake young trees.
Mothers plan baby showers and Tupperware parties.
The Avon Lady treks door to door.

Six or seven years old, I stand on the front porch,
hand on the decorative cast-iron trellis that frames it,
squinting in California sunlight,
striped short-sleeved shirt buttoned at the neck.

I sit in the backyard (this picture's black-and-white),
my Flintstones playset spread out on the grass.
I arrange each plastic character, each dinosaur,
each palm tree and round "granite" house.

Half a century later, I barely recognize it 
when I search the address on Google Maps 
and, via "Street view," find myself face to face—

foliage overgrown, facade remodeled and painted 
a drab brown. I click to zoom: light hits
one of the windows. I can almost see what's inside.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Weather Eye Open
Sarah Gridley
Besides the toss and drag of shells are you shown no proof
as to time lost here?

Same stamp
                               on every morning. Tattered glass
at rub on sunblind margin. No island roofs or goat-skinned
rocks.

My stars
	      but you are travel-rank!

Cracked with offering.  Your hands bear
what? bow-spray? mast-scrape?
                                    Keel, stinging under silver weight.

      what boats unloads your night? Why do the waves
keep you in their shattered cloak? Eyes each upon you
	
      creaking pilot, pilot, pilot?
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Advice to a Prophet
Richard Wilbur, 1921
When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God's name to have self-pity,

Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,
Unable to fear what is too strange.

Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.
How should we dream of this place without us?--
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
A stone look on the stone's face?

Speak of the world's own change. Though we cannot conceive
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
How the view alters.  We could believe,

If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip

On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
Stunned in a twinkling.  What should we be without
The dolphin's arc, the dove's return, 

These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
Ask us, prophet, how we shall call
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken

In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
Horse of our courage, in which beheld
The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
And all we mean or wish to mean.

Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Apples
Grace Schulman
Rain hazes a street cart's green umbrella
but not its apples, heaped in paper cartons,
dry under cling film. The apple man,

who shirrs his mouth as though eating tart fruit,
exhibits four like racehorses at auction:
Blacktwig, Holland, Crimson King, Salome.

I tried one and its cold grain jolted memory:
a hill where meager apples fell so bruised
that locals wondered why we scooped them up,

my friend and I, in matching navy blazers.
One bite and I heard her laughter toll,
free as school's out, her face flushed in late sun.

I asked the apple merchant for another,
jaunty as Cezanne's still-life reds and yellows,
having more life than stillness, telling us,

uncut, unpeeled, they are not for the feast
but for themselves, and building strength to fly
at any moment, leap from a skewed bowl,

whirl in the air, and roll off a tilted table.
Fruit-stand vendor, master of Northern Spies,
let a loose apple teach me how to spin

at random, burn in light and rave in shadows.
Bring me a Winesap like the one Eve tasted,
savored and shared, and asked for more.

No fool, she knew that beauty strikes just once,
hard, never in comfort. For that bitter fruit,
tasting of earth and song, I'd risk exile.

The air is bland here. I would forfeit mist
for hail, put on a robe of dandelions,
and run out, broken, to weep and curse — for joy.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
June Light
Richard Wilbur, 1921
Your voice, with clear location of June days,
Called me outside the window.  You were there,
Light yet composed, as in the just soft stare
Of uncontested summer all things raise
Plainly their seeming into seamless air.

Then your love looked as simple and entire
As that picked pear you tossed me, and your face
As legible as pearskin's fleck and trace,
Which promise always wine, by mottled fire
More fatal fleshed than ever human grace.

And your gay gift—Oh when I saw it fall
Into my hands, through all that naïve light,
It seemed as blessed with truth and new delight
As must have been the first great gift of all.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Skylab
Rolf Jacobsen
We've come so far, thought the astronaut
as he swam around the capsule in his third week
and by accident kicked a god in the eye
--so far
that there's no difference anymore between up and down,
north and south, heavy and light.
And how, then, can we know righteousness.

So far. 
And weightless, in a sealed room
we chase the sunrises at high speed
and sicken with longing for a green stalk
or the heft of something in our hands. Lifting a stone. 

One night he saw that the Earth was like an open eye
that looked at him as gravely as the eye of a child
awakened in the middle of the night. 
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Around Us
Marvin Bell, 1937
We need some pines to assuage the darkness
when it blankets the mind,
we need a silvery stream that banks as smoothly
as a plane's wing, and a worn bed of 
needles to pad the rumble that fills the mind,
and a blur or two of a wild thing
that sees and is not seen. We need these things
between appointments, after work,
and, if we keep them, then someone someday,
lying down after a walk
and supper, with the fire hole wet down,
the whole night sky set at a particular
time, without numbers or hours, will cause
a little sound of thanks--a zipper or a snap--
to close round the moment and the thought
of whatever good we did.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Now that no one looking
Adam Kirsch
Now that no one looking at the night—
Sky blanked by leakage from electric lamps
And headlights prowling through the parking lot
Could recognize the Babylonian dance
That once held every gazer; now that spoons
And scales, and swordsmen battling with beasts
Have decomposed into a few stars strewn
Illegibly across an empty space,
Maybe the old unfalsifiable
Predictions and extrapolated spheres
No longer need to be an obstacle
To hearing what it is the stars declare:
That there are things created of a size
We can't and weren't meant to understand,
As fish know nothing of the sun that writes
Its bright glyphs on the black waves overhead.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Forgetfulness
Billy Collins, 1941
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, 
never even heard of,

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

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

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

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

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those 
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
The Shapes of Leaves
Arthur Sze, 1950
Ginkgo, cottonwood, pin oak, sweet gum, tulip tree:
our emotions resemble leaves and alive
to their shapes we are nourished.

Have you felt the expanse and contours of grief
along the edges of a big Norway maple?
Have you winced at the orange flare

searing the curves of a curling dogwood?
I have seen from the air logged islands,
each with a network of branching gravel roads,

and felt a moment of pure anger, aspen gold.
I have seen sandhill cranes moving in an open field,
a single white whooping crane in the flock.

And I have traveled along the contours 
of leaves that have no name. Here
where the air is wet and the light is cool, 

I feel what others are thinking and do not speak,
I know pleasure in the veins of a sugar maple,
I am living at the edge of a new leaf.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Filling Station
Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979
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.
Bread and Hyacinths
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If You Get There Before I Do
Dick Allen
Air out the linens, unlatch the shutters on the eastern side,
and maybe find that deck of Bicycle cards
lost near the sofa. Or maybe walk around
and look out the back windows first.
I hear the view's magnificent: old silent pines
leading down to the lakeside, layer upon layer
of magnificent light. Should you be hungry, 
I'm sorry but there's no Chinese takeout,
only a General Store. You passed it coming in, 
but you probably didn't notice its one weary gas pump
along with all those Esso cans from decades ago.
If you're somewhat confused, think Vermont,
that state where people are folded into the mountains
like berries in batter. . . . What I'd like when I get there
is a few hundred years to sit around and concentrate
on one thing at a time. I'd start with radiators
and work my way up to Meister Eckhart,
or why do so few people turn their lives around, so many
take small steps into what they never do,
the first weeks, the first lessons,
until they choose something other,
beginning and beginning their lives,
so never knowing what it's like to risk
last minute failure. . . .I'd save blue for last. Klein blue,
or the blue of Crater Lake on an early June morning.
That would take decades. . . .Don't forget
to sway the fence gate back and forth a few times
just for its creaky sound. When you swing in the tire swing
make sure your socks are off. You've forgotten, I expect,
the feeling of feet brushing the tops of sunflowers:
In Vermont, I once met a ski bum on a summer break
who had followed the snows for seven years and planned
on at least seven more. We're here for the enjoyment of it, he said,
to salaam into joy. . . .I expect you'll find
Bibles scattered everywhere, or Talmuds, or Qur'ans,
as well as little snippets of gospel music, chants,
old Advent calendars with their paper doors still open.
You might pay them some heed. Don't be alarmed
when what's familiar starts fading, as gradually
you lose your bearings,
your body seems to turn opaque and then transparent,
until finally it's invisible--what old age rehearses us for
and vacations in the limbo of the Middle West.
Take it easy, take it slow. When you think I'm on my way,
the long middle passage done,
fill the pantry with cereal, curry, and blue and white boxes of macaroni, place the
checkerboard set, or chess if you insist,
out on the flat-topped stump beneath the porch's shadow,
pour some lemonade into the tallest glass you can find in the cupboard,
then drum your fingers, practice lifting your eyebrows,
until you tell them all--the skeptics, the bigots, blind neighbors,
those damn-with-faint-praise critics on their hobbyhorses--
that I'm allowed,
and if there's a place for me that love has kept protected,
I'll be coming, I'll be coming too.
Bread and Hyacinths
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Porch Swing in September
Ted Kooser, 1939
The porch swing hangs fixed in a morning sun
that bleaches its gray slats, its flowered cushion
whose flowers have faded, like those of summer,
and a small brown spider has hung out her web
on a line between porch post and chain
so that no one may swing without breaking it.
She is saying it’s time that the swinging were done with,
time that the creaking and pinging and popping
that sang through the ceiling were past,
time now for the soft vibrations of moths,
the wasp tapping each board for an entrance,
the cool dewdrops to brush from her work
every morning, one world at a time.
Bread and Hyacinths
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Passing Through Albuquerque
John Balaban
At dusk, by the irrigation ditch
gurgling past backyards near the highway,
locusts raise a maze of calls in cottonwoods.

A Spanish girl in a white party dress
strolls the levee by the muddy water
where her small sister plunks in stones.

Beyond a low adobe wall and a wrecked car
men are pitching horseshoes in a dusty lot.
Someone shouts as he clangs in a ringer.

Big winds buffet in ahead of a storm,
rocking the immense trees and whipping up
clouds of dust, wild leaves, and cottonwool.

In the moment when the locusts pause and the girl
presses her up-fluttering dress to her bony knees
you can hear a banjo, guitar, and fiddle

playing "The Mississippi Sawyer" inside a shack.
Moments like that, you can love this country.
Bread and Hyacinths
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Leaves
Lloyd Schwartz, 1941
                        1 

Every October it becomes important, no, necessary
to see the leaves turning, to be surrounded
by leaves turning; it's not just the symbolism,
to confront in the death of the year your death,
one blazing farewell appearance, though the irony 
isn't lost on you that nature is most seductive
when it's about to die, flaunting the dazzle of its 
incipient exit, an ending that at least so far 
the effects of human progress (pollution, acid rain)
have not yet frightened you enough to make you believe
is real; that is, you know this ending is a deception
because of course nature is always renewing itself—
        the trees don't die, they just pretend,
        go out in style, and return in style: a new style.





                        2 

Is it deliberate how far they make you go
especially if you live in the city to get far 
enough away from home to see not just trees 
but only trees? The boring highways, roadsigns, high 
speeds, 10-axle trucks passing you as if they were 
in an even greater hurry than you to look at leaves:
so you drive in terror for literal hours and it looks 
like rain, or snow, but it's probably just clouds
(too cloudy to see any color?) and you wonder, 
given the poverty of your memory, which road had the 
most color last year, but it doesn't matter since 
you're probably too late anyway, or too early—
        whichever road you take will be the wrong one
        and you've probably come all this way for nothing.






                        3 

You'll be driving along depressed when suddenly
a cloud will move and the sun will muscle through
and ignite the hills. It may not last. Probably
won't last. But for a moment the whole world
comes to. Wakes up. Proves it lives. It lives—
red, yellow, orange, brown, russet, ocher, vermilion,
gold. Flame and rust. Flame and rust, the permutations
of burning. You're on fire. Your eyes are on fire.
It won't last, you don't want it to last. You 
can't stand any more. But you don't want it to stop. 
It's what you've come for. It's what you'll
come back for. It won't stay with you, but you'll 
        remember that it felt like nothing else you've felt
        or something you've felt that also didn't last.
Bread and Hyacinths
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The Hug
Thom Gunn, 1929 - 2004

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
    Half of the night with our old friend
        Who'd showed us in the end
    To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
        Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug, 
        Suddenly, from behind, 
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
        Your instep to my heel,
    My shoulder-blades against your chest.
    It was not sex, but I could feel
    The whole strength of your body set,
           Or braced, to mine,
        And locking me to you
    As if we were still twenty-two
    When our grand passion had not yet
        Become familial.
    My quick sleep had deleted all 
    Of intervening time and place.
        I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks
Jane Kenyon, 1947 - 1995
I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper. . . . 

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. . . . 

I am food on the prisoner's plate. . . . 

I am water rushing to the wellhead, 
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . . 

I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden. . . .

I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge. . . . 

I am the heart contracted by joy. . .
the longest hair, white
before the rest. . . . 

I am there in the basket of fruit 
presented to the widow. . . .

I am the musk rose opening 
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . . 

I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name. . . .
Bread and Hyacinths
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Why Latin Should Still Be Taught in High School
Christopher Bursk

Because one day I grew so bored
with Lucretius, I fell in love
with the one object that seemed to be stationary,
the sleeping kid two rows up,
the appealing squalor of his drooping socks.
While the author of De Rerum Natura was making fun
of those who fear the steep way and lose the truth,
I was studying the unruly hairs on Peter Diamond’s right leg.
Titus Lucretius Caro labored, dactyl by dactyl
to convince our Latin IV class of the atomic
composition of smoke and dew,
and I tried to make sense of a boy’s ankles,
the calves’ intriguing
resiliency, the integrity to the shank,
the solid geometry of my classmate’s body.
Light falling through blinds,
a bee flinging itself into a flower,
a seemingly infinite set of texts
to translate and now this particular configuration of atoms
who was given a name at birth,
Peter Diamond, and sat two rows in front of me,
his long arms, his legs that like Lucretius’s hexameters
seemed to go on forever, all this hurly-burly
of matter that had the goodness to settle
long enough to make a body
so fascinating it got me
through fifty-five minutes
of the nature of things.

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Aubade: Some Peaches, After Storm
Carl Phillips, 1959

So that each
is its own, now--each has fallen, blond stillness.
Closer, above them,
the damselflies pass as they would over water, 
if the fruit were water,
or as bees would, if they weren't
somewhere else, had the fruit found
already a point more steep
in rot, as soon it must, if
none shall lift it from the grass whose damp only 
softens further those parts where flesh
goes soft.

There are those
whom no amount of patience looks likely
to improve ever, I always said, meaning
gift is random, 
assigned here, 
here withheld--almost always
correctly
as it's turned out: how your hands clear
easily the wreckage;
how you stand--like a building for a time condemned,
then deemed historic. Yes. You
will be saved.
Bread and Hyacinths
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What I'm telling you [excerpt]
Shara McCallum, 1972
Reincarnation, life everlasting--
call it whatever you will--

it will not change
the facts: we are ashes of stellar death.

And, in the end, wishing on shooting stars
is like pinning your hopes

on the last sound of the whistle
trailing off, last chord of the train

sparking on the tracks
then fading into the dark.
Bread and Hyacinths
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The Golden Years
Billy Collins, 1941
All I do these drawn-out days
is sit in my kitchen at Pheasant Ridge
where there are no pheasants to be seen
and last time I looked, no ridge.

I could drive over to Quail Falls
and spend the day there playing bridge,
but the lack of a falls and the absence of quail
would only remind me of Pheasant Ridge.

I know a widow at Fox Run
and another with a condo at Smokey Ledge.
One of them smokes, and neither can run,
so I’ll stick to the pledge I made to Midge.

Who frightened the fox and bulldozed the ledge?
I ask in my kitchen at Pheasant Ridge.
Bread and Hyacinths
next
Heaven for Helen
Mark Doty, 1953
Helen says heaven, for her,
would be complete immersion
in physical process,
without self-consciousness—

to be the respiration of the grass,
or ionized agitation
just above the break of a wave,
traffic in a sunflower's thousand golden rooms.

Images of exchange,
and of untrammeled nature.
But if we're to become part of it all,
won't our paradise also involve

participation in being, say,
diesel fuel, the impatience of trucks
on August pavement,
weird glow of service areas

along the interstate at night?
We'll be shiny pink egg cartons,
and the thick treads of burst tires
along the highways in Pennsylvania:

a hell we've made to accompany
the given: we will join
our tiresome productions,
things that want to be useless forever.

But that's me talking. Helen 
would take the greatest pleasure
in being a scrap of paper,
if that's what there were to experience.

Perhaps that's why she's a painter,
finally: to practice disappearing
into her  scrupulous attention,
an exacting rehearsal for the larger

world of things it won't be easy to love.
Helen I think will master it, though I may not.
She has practiced a long time learning to see
I have devoted myself to affirmation,

when I should have kept my eyes on the ground.
Bread and Hyacinths
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Darwin's Finches
Deborah Digges, 1950 - 2009
1 
My mother always called it a nest, 
the multi-colored mass harvested

from her six daughters' brushes, 
and handed it to one of us

after she had shaped it, as we sat in front 
of the fire drying our hair.

She said some birds steal anything, a strand 
of spider's web, or horse's mane,

the residue of sheep's wool in the grasses 
near a fold

where every summer of her girlhood 
hundreds nested.

Since then I've seen it for myself, their genius—
how they transform the useless.

I've seen plastics stripped and whittled 
into a brilliant straw,

and newspapers—the dates, the years—
supporting the underweavings.


2 
As tonight in our bed by the window 
you brush my hair to help me sleep, and clean

the brush as my mother did, offering 
the nest to the updraft.

I'd like to think it will be lifted as far 
as the river, and catch in some white sycamore,

or drift, too light to sink, into the shaded inlets, 
the bank-moss, where small fish, frogs, and insects

lay their eggs. 
Would this constitute an afterlife?

The story goes that sailors, moored for weeks 
off islands they called paradise,

stood in the early sunlight 
cutting their hair. And the rare

birds there, nameless, almost extinct, 
came down around them

and cleaned the decks 
and disappeared into the trees above the sea.
Bread and Hyacinths
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A List of Praises
Anne Porter
Give praise with psalms that tell the trees to sing,
Give praise with Gospel choirs in storefront churches,
Mad with the joy of the Sabbath, 
Give praise with the babble of infants, who wake with the sun,
Give praise with children chanting their skip-rope rhymes, 
A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry 
living wild on the Streets through generations of children.

Give praise with the sound of the milk-train far away 
With its mutter of wheels and long-drawn-out sweet whistle
As it speeds through the fields of sleep at three in the morning,
Give praise with the immense and peaceful sigh
Of the wind in the pinewoods, 
At night give praise with starry silences. 

Give praise with the skirling of seagulls 
And the rattle and flap of sails 
And gongs of buoys rocked by the sea-swell
Out in the shipping-lanes beyond the harbor. 
Give praise with the humpback whales, 
Huge in the ocean they sing to one another.
 
Give praise with the rasp and sizzle of crickets, katydids and cicadas, 
Give praise with hum of bees, 
Give praise with the little peepers who live near water.
When they fill the marsh with a shimmer of bell-like cries
We know that the winter is over. 

Give praise with mockingbirds, day's nightingales.
Hour by hour they sing in the crepe myrtle 
And glossy tulip trees
On quiet side streets in southern towns.
 
Give praise with the rippling speech
Of the eider-duck and her ducklings
As they paddle their way downstream
In the red-gold morning 
On Restiguche, their cold river,
Salmon river, 
Wilderness river. 

Give praise with the whitethroat sparrow.
Far, far from the cities, 
Far even from the towns, 
With piercing innocence 
He sings in the spruce-tree tops,
Always four notes 
And four notes only. 

Give praise with water, 
With storms of rain and thunder 
And the small rains that sparkle as they dry,
And the faint floating ocean roar 
That fills the seaside villages, 
And the clear brooks that travel down the mountains 

And with this poem, a leaf on the vast flood,
And with the angels in that other country.
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The Pomegranate
Eavan Boland, 1944
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere.  And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted.  Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
                    It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate!  How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and 
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry.  I could warn her.  There is still a chance.
The rain is cold.  The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world.  But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.  
She will enter it.  As I have.
She will wake up.  She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips.  I will say nothing.
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In April
James Hearst
This I saw on an April day:
Warm rain spilt from a sun-lined cloud,
A sky-flung wave of gold at evening,
And a cock pheasant treading a dusty path
Shy and proud.


And this I found in an April field:
A new white calf in the sun at noon,
A flash of blue in a cool moss bank,
And tips of tulips promising flowers
To a blue-winged loon.


And this I tried to understand
As I scrubbed the rust from my brightening plow:
The movement of seed in furrowed earth,
And a blackbird whistling sweet and clear
From a green-sprayed bough.
Bread and Hyacinths
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A Hand
Jane Hirshfield, 1953
A hand is not four fingers and a thumb.

Nor is it palm and knuckles,
not ligaments or the fat's yellow pillow,
not tendons, star of the wristbone, meander of veins.

A hand is not the thick thatch of its lines
with their infinite dramas,
nor what it has written,
not on the page,
not on the ecstatic body.

Nor is the hand its meadows of holding, of shaping—
not sponge of rising yeast-bread,
not rotor pin's smoothness,
not ink.

The maple's green hands do not cup
the proliferant rain.
What empties itself falls into the place that is open.

A hand turned upward holds only a single, transparent question.

Unanswerable, humming like bees, it rises, swarms, departs.
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Outside Abilene
Harley Elliott
the full rage of kansas
turns loose upon us.

On the mexican radio station
they are singing Espiritu de mis sueños
and that is
exactly it tonight.

The spirit of my dreams
rises in the storm like vapor.

Deep clouds bulge together
and below them
we are a tiny constellation of lights
the car
laid under sheets of lightning
moving straight in to the night.

Before us are miles
and miles of water and wind.
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Another Attempt at Rescue
M. L. Smoker
And to think I had just paid a cousin twenty dollars to shovel the walk.
He and two of his buddies, still smelling of an all-nighter,
arrived at 7 am to begin their work.
When I left them a while later I noticed their ungloved hands
and winter made me feel selfish and unsure.
This ground seems unsure of itself
		    for its own reasons.
Real spring is still distant
and no one is trying to make themselves believe
this might last, this last unreasonable half hour.
It is six-thirty in eastern Montana and the cold
	has finally given way.
The time is important not because this has been a long winter
or for the fact that it is my first here
since childhood, but because there is so much else
to be unsure of.
	        At a time like this
how is it that when I left only a week ago
there were three feet of snow on the ground,
and now there are none, not even a single patch
holding on in the shadow of the fence-line.
          We do not gauge enough of our lives
     by changes in temperature.
When I first began to write poems I was laying claim to battle.
It began with a death and I have tried to say it was unjust,
not because of the actual dying but because of what
was left.  What time of year was that?
I have still not yet learned to write of war.
I have friends who speak out--as is necessary--with subtle
and unsubtle force. But I am from
this place and a great deal has been going wrong 
	        for some time now.
The two young Indian boys who might have drowned
last night in the fast-rising creek near school
are casualties enough for me.
          There have been too many
just like them and I have no way to fix these things.
A friend from Boston wrote something to me last week
about not have the intelligence
to take as subject for his poems
anything other than his own life.
For a while now I have sensed this in my own mood:
this poem was never supposed to mention
itself, other writers, or me.
          But I will not regret the boys who made it home,
or the cousins who used the money at the bar.
Still, something is being lost here and there are no lights
on this street; enough mud remains on our feet
to carry with us into the house.
Bread and Hyacinths
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The Mystery of Meteors
Eleanor Lerman
I am out before dawn, marching a small dog through a meager park 
Boulevards angle away, newspapers fly around like blind white birds 
Two days in a row I have not seen the meteors
though the radio news says they are overhead 
Leonid's brimstones are barred by clouds; I cannot read 
the signs in heaven, I cannot see night rendered into fire

And yet I do believe a net of glitter is above me 
You would not think I still knew these things:
I get on the train, I buy the food, I sweep, discuss, 
consider gloves or boots, and in the summer, 
open windows, find beads to string with pearls 
You would not think that I had survived 
anything but the life you see me living now

In the darkness, the dog stops and sniffs the air 
She has been alone, she has known danger, 
and so now she watches for it always 
and I agree, with the conviction of my mistakes. 
But in the second part of my life, slowly, slowly, 
I begin to counsel bravery. Slowly, slowly, 
I begin to feel the planets turning, and I am turning 
toward the crackling shower of their sparks

These are the mysteries I could not approach when I was younger:
the boulevards, the meteors, the deep desires that split the sky
Walking down the paths of the cold park
I remember myself, the one who can wait out anything
So I caution the dog to go silently, to bear with me 
the burden of knowing what spins on and on above our heads

For this is our reward:Come Armageddon, come fire or flood, 
come love, not love, millennia of portents-- 
there is a future in which the dog and I are laughing 
Born into it, the mystery, I know we will be saved
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The Starlings
Jesper Svenbro
Late one afternoon in October
I hear them for the first time:
loud-voiced palavering, whistles, murmurs,
quarrels, bickering and warbling, croaking and chatter
in the high plane trees of the street.
The leaves are all turning yellow this time of year,
causing huge yellow sunlit rooms
to appear at the level of the fifth and sixth floors
opposite the barracks, where the tram turns off
from the Via delle Milizie.
Solid branches, twigs, and perches:
every bit of space is taken up in this parliament of starlings!
They are tightly bunched together there among the leaves;
and the hundreds of thousands of starlings
that perform their flying exercises
against the backdrop of the evening's mass of motionless cloud
will surely soon have lost their places:
there are myriads of swarming punctuation marks out there,
starlings flying in formation,
sudden sharp turns, steep ascents,
swarm on delightful swarm
against a rosy cloud bank in the east.
The October evening is cool.
The shop windows of the Via Ottaviano are shining.
And the starlings are chattering, quarreling and laughing,
whispering and quietly enjoying themselves, when suddenly 
a blustering as of ten thousand pairs of sharp-edged scissors
passes through the republic of the plains--
it is as though an alarm had sounded,
heard as an echo over the muffled traffic.
Soon the darkness of night will fall.
But the starlings up there won't stop talking,
they move together, push one another, chatter and flit.
Virgil must have had them in mind when somewhere he likens
the souls of the deceased to flights of birds
which toward sundown 
abandon the mountains and gather in high trees.
I seem to be standing in an Underworld
in the midst of a swarm of birds.
The block is Virgilian; the street is crossed
by the Viale Giulio Cesare,
where you lived
for some time before you died.
That's why I am stopping here.
The souls of the dead have gathered in the trees.
Their number is incredible, suddenly it seems ghastly;
is this what it will be like?
For a moment I am a prisoner
of the poem I am writing.
There must be an exit.
The soldier coming up to me
has noticed that I have been standing
for quite some time looking up into the foliage--
into the darkness of feathers, bird's eyes, and beaks.
The peasant boy inside him apprises me
of the fact that starlings come in vast migrations
"from Poland and Russia"
to spend the winter in the south:
"And things go very well for them!
In the daytime they fly out to the countryside
and spend the night in here,"
he explains with great amusement, turning his gaze
up toward the swarm of birds. Their anxiety seems to have ceased;
in just a moment they all seem to have fallen asleep.
Only single chirps and clucks are heard
from starlings talking in their sleep.
What are they dreaming of? Ten thousand starlings are dreaming in the 
darkness
about the sunlight over the fields.
As for myself, I am thinking of the tranquility
in certain restaurants in the countryside,
in the Albano Mountains and on the Campagna--
the tranquility at noon on a sunny day in October.
I am filled with the clarity of the fall day.
And am touched by something immeasurable, transparent,
which I cannot describe at first 
but must be everything we never said to each other.
There are so many things I'd like to say.
How shall I be able to speak?
Today you are not shade, you are light.
And in the poem I am writing you will be my guest.
We are going to talk about Digenís Akrítas,
the Byzantine heroic poem
with the strangely compelling rhythm;
and since the manuscript of the poem
is preserved in the monastery at Grottaferrata
I shall order wine from Grottaferrata,
golden and shimmering in its carafe;
we shall talk about the miraculously translucent autumn poem by Petronius
which appears first in Ekelöf's Elective Affinities;
and about Ekelöf's poems, to which you devoted such attention.
Did Ekelöf ever come to Grottaferrata?
I seem to detect your lively gaze.
And we shall see how the starlings come flying
across the fields in teeming swarms.
They will come from Rome and spend the day out here 
where they will eat snails, worms, and seeds
and suddenly they will fly up from a field
as at a given signal
and make us look into the sun.

In Memoriam Ludovica Koch (1941-93)

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Unity
Pablo Neruda, 1904 - 1973
There is something dense, united, settled in the depths,
repeating its number, its identical sign.
How it is noted that stones have touched time,
in their refined matter there is an odor of age,
of water brought by the sea, from salt and sleep.
 
I'm encircled by a single thing, a single movement: 
a mineral weight, a honeyed light
cling to the sound of the word "noche":
the tint of wheat, of ivory, of tears,
things of leather, of wood, of wool,
archaic, faded, uniform,
collect around me like walls.

I work quietly, wheeling over myself,
a crow over death, a crow in mourning.
I mediate, isolated in the spread of seasons,
centric, encircled by a silent geometry:
a partial temperature drifts down from the sky,
a distant empire of confused unities
reunites encircling me.
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Lupine Ridge
Peggy Simson Curry
Long after we are gone,
Summer will stroke this ridge in blue;
The hawk still flies above the flowers,
Thinking, perhaps, the sky has fallen
And back and forth forever he may trace
His shadow on its azure face.

Long after we are gone,
Evening wind will languish here
Between the lupine and the sage
To die a little death upon the earth,
As though over the sundown prairies fell
A requiem from a bronze-tongued bell.

Long after we are gone,
This ridge will shape the night,
Lifting the wine-streaked west,
Shouldering the stars.  And always here
Lovers will walk under the summer skies
Through flowers the color of your eyes.
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Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet
Tony Hoagland, 1953
At this height, Kansas 
is just a concept, 
a checkerboard design of wheat and corn

no larger than the foldout section 
of my neighbor's travel magazine. 
At this stage of the journey

I would estimate the distance 
between myself and my own feelings 
is roughly the same as the mileage

from Seattle to New York, 
so I can lean back into the upholstered interval 
between Muzak and lunch,

a little bored, a little old and strange.
I remember, as a dreamy
backyard kind of kid,

tilting up my head to watch 
those planes engrave the sky 
in lines so steady and so straight

they implied the enormous concentration 
of good men, 
but now my eyes flicker

from the in-flight movie 
to the stewardess's pantyline, 
then back into my book,

where men throw harpoons at something 
much bigger and probably 
better than themselves,

wanting to kill it, 
wanting to see great clouds of blood erupt 
to prove that they exist.

Imagine being born and growing up, 
rushing through the world for sixty years 
at unimaginable speeds.

Imagine a century like a room so large, 
a corridor so long
you could travel for a lifetime

and never find the door, 
until you had forgotten 
that such a thing as doors exist.

Better to be on board the Pequod, 
with a mad one-legged captain 
living for revenge.

Better to feel the salt wind 
spitting in your face, 
to hold your sharpened weapon high,

to see the glisten
of the beast beneath the waves. 
What a relief it would be

to hear someone in the crew 
cry out like a gull, 
Oh Captain, Captain! 
Where are we going now?
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Fuel
Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
Even at this late date, sometimes I have to look up
the word "receive." I received his deep
and interested gaze.

A bean plant flourishes under the rain of sweet words.
Tell what you think—I'm listening.

The story ruffled its twenty leaves.

*

Once my teacher set me on a high stool
for laughing. She thought the eyes
of my classmates would whittle me to size.
But they said otherwise.

We'd laugh too if we knew how.

I pinned my gaze out the window
on a ripe line of sky.

That's where I was going.
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Museum Guard
David Hernandez
My condolences to the man dressed
for a funeral, sitting bored
on a gray folding chair, the zero

of his mouth widening in a yawn.
No doubt he's pictured himself inside
a painting or two around his station,

stealing a plump green grape
from the cluster hanging above
the corkscrew locks of Dionysus,

or shooting arrows at rosy-cheeked cherubs
hiding behind a woolly cloud.
With time limping along

like a Bruegel beggar, no doubt
he's even seen himself taking the place
of the one crucified: the black spike

of the minute hand piercing his left palm,
the hour hand penetrating the right, 
nailed forever to one spot.
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Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year
Maxine Kumin, 1925 - 2014
          How did we get to be old ladies—
          my grandmother's job—when we 
          were the long-leggèd girls?
	— Hilma Wolitzer

Instead of marrying the day after graduation,		
in spite of freezing on my father's arm as 				
here comes the bride struck up,
saying, I'm not sure I want to do this,

I should have taken that fellowship
to the University of Grenoble to examine 
the original manuscript 
of Stendhal's unfinished Lucien Leuwen, 

I, who had never been west of the Mississippi, 
should have crossed the ocean 
in third class on the Cunard White Star,	
the war just over, the Second World War 
 
when Kilroy was here, that innocent graffito,
two eyes and a nose draped over 
a fence line.  How could I go?
Passion had locked us together.

Sixty years my lover,
he says he would have waited.
He says he would have sat
where the steamship docked

till the last of the pursers
decamped, and I rushed back				
littering the runway with carbon paper . . .  
Why didn’t I go? It was fated. 

Marriage dizzied us. Hand over hand,
flesh against flesh for the final haul,	
we tugged our lifeline through limestone and sand,
lover and long-leggèd girl.
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Dispatches from Devereux Slough
Mark Jarman, 1952
Black Phoebe

Highwayman of the air, coal-headed, darting
Plunderer of gnat hordes, lasso with beak –

"Surely, that fellow creature on the wing,"
The phoebe thinks, "should fly like this."

                     And loops
His flight path in a wiry noose, takes wing
Like a cast line and hits the living fly,

Ripping it from the fluid of its life.


Devereux Lagoon

Shiners leap ahead of diving cormorants
And killdeer cry, alarming one another.
In an egret's beak, the catch flashes like shook foil.

How well these field glasses scope out the place—
A kestrel sky, serrations of the Madres,
And sand flats darkened by a rare rain shower.

Such an odd peace, as creatures stalk each other


Dispatch from Devereux Slough
               Fall, 2008
The gulls have no idea.
The distant bark of sea lions gives nothing away.
The white-tailed kite flutters and hunts.
The pelicans perform their sloppy angling.
The ironbark eucalyptus dwells in ignorance and beauty.
And the night herons brood in their heronry like yoga masters, each balanced on a twig.
The world has changed. The news will take some time to get here.


From the Garden Toad

A cri de coeur of mud, a heartfelt groan
Of deep damp, mother rainfall and her sire;

A plea from underground, from drooping shade,
From memories of sunlight and clear water;

Reproach of an old grandparent half-forgotten –

All in that voice, announcing a desire
To have sex under the giant philodendron.


Marine Layer

No one is out tonight, but just in case,
A tubaphone's deep echo, like a seine net,
Sweeps under darkness and pulls darkness in
The way a trellis shadow cages light.

To hear the foghorn is to hear your childhood,
If you were lucky to have lived near ocean,
Moving again into your neighborhood.


Overcast on Ellwood Mesa

Hawks like it. Wings cast no shadow, hovering,

And white crowned sparrows are easier to pick out
Among the foxtails, scurrying like mice.

Under the gray cloud cover, blue birds course
Like running water through the fennel stalks,

And the shrike, color of the sky, keeps watch
From the barbed wire of the startling green golf course.


September Song

Those phosphorescent shoulders of the night surf
Passing beneath the pier,
                     as we looked down,
Were an agitation in the falling water
Of creatures set to glowing,
                     all together,
By sudden apprehension, which we perceived
As incandescent wonder,
                     our eyes feasting,
Our hearts filled by the light of crashing down.


Shorebreak, 3 a.m.

At night the swell and crash, the swell and crash,
As waves rush forward, peak, and then collapse
Gasping and giving up a ghost of spray,
Sounds from a distance like a low-voiced hush.

Awake, alone, at the right hour to hear it,
That hush, for all the sleeplessness behind it,
Can lead one, walking wounded, back to sleep.


Sundowner

Waking at nightfall like the other monsters,
The vampire and the moonstruck wolfman, arson
Is hardly required to set your body burning,

Thirsting for dryness, dry brush, stucco houses.

Flame wind, ember wind, wind of moonlit smoke,
Rolling a fog of ash downhill to sea,

The sun's down is the harsh fur of your burning.


Surgeons

The egret is more patient than any watcher
And lances its incision when its stillness
Has made one look away.
                     Its anesthetic
Is stillness, and it numbs the water's skin.

The pelican takes a hatchet to the water,
The egret plies a scalpel.
                        They extract fish,
But one by smash and gulp, and one by stillness.


The Crystal Ship
       Sands Beach, Goleta

The famous rock star thought up his famous rock song
While gazing out at the oil derrick offshore.

Lit up at night it might look, to stoned eyes,
Like a faceted galleon perfect for a song.

Tonight, as sunset gives off its green flash,
The derrick has that look.
                     And so does the oil barge
Docked to it, dead black, filling up with cargo.


To a Dead Sea Lion at Sands Beach

You had returned from dry land back to water,
Preferring it, and welcomed the new limbs,
Webbed to conceal your toe and finger bones.

You rolled along the surf, all memory
Of other motion swept back in your wake,
And ended here, among fly-buzzing kelp.

Sleek swimmer drowned,
            and with your unwebbed bones.


Heaven

When we are reunited after death,
The owls will call among the eucalyptus,
The white tailed kite will arc across the mesa,
And sunset cast orange light from the Pacific
Against the golden bush and eucalyptus
Where flowers and fruit and seeds appear all seasons
And our paired silhouettes are waiting for us.
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Untranslatable Song
Claudia Reder
          "Everyone needs one untranslatable song."
                     —Juarroz

On hearing the striped contralto of guinea fowl,
its mock opera quivers the parsley atop its head— 

The song makes its imprint
in the air, making itself felt, 
a felt world. Here, there, 
the stunned silence 
of knowing I will not remember 
what I heard;

futures
that will never happen, 
a fluidity we cannot achieve 
except as a child 
creating possibility.

This is the untranslatable song
hidden in the earth.
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Zero
Dorothea Tanning, 1910 - 2012
Now that legal tender has
              lost its tenderness,
and its very legality
          is so often in question,
it may be time to consider
the zero—
          long rows of them,
    empty, black circles in clumps
                          of three,
presided over by a numeral
                       or two.
Admired, even revered,
these zeros
          of imaginary money
capture
   the open gaze of innocents

like a vision of earthly paradise.

Now the zero has
a new name:
               The Economy.

As for that earthly
                paradise—well...
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Theories of Time and Space
Natasha Trethewey, 1966

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return

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Children in a Field
Angela Shaw
They don't wade in so much as they are taken.
Deep in the day, in the deep of the field,
every current in the grasses whispers hurry
hurry, every yellow spreads its perfume
like a rumor, impelling them further on.
It is the way of girls.  It is the sway
of their dresses in the summer trance-
light, their bare calves already far-gone
in green.  What songs will they follow?
Whatever the wood warbles, whatever storm
or harm the border promises, whatever
calm.  Let them go.  Let them go traceless 
through the high grass and into the willow-
blur, traceless across the lean blue glint
of the river, to the long dark bodies
of the conifers, and over the welcoming
threshold of nightfall.