Golden-eyed girl, do you see what I see?
Do you see behind the veil that Life
Golden-eyed girl, I would like to laugh
But my veil is torn, and I see things pass
Like shadows in the depths of a crystal glass.
Golden-eyed girl, you are young as springtime,
Your great eyes are dreamful, your rare
Shadows matter little to youth with dancing feet
All of Life’s skeletons wear gay dresses
And youth is deceived by even Death’s caresses.
Golden-eyed girl, you have years to dance and
Before your Life’s curtain will wear into holes
And let you see the hopelessness hidden in souls.
You have many moons of laughter, many
years to go
Before you’ll learn how heavy dancing feet
From On a Grey Thread (Will Ransom, 1923) by Elsa Gidlow. This poem is in the public domain.
A good way to fall in love is to turn off the headlights and drive very fast down dark roads. Another way to fall in love is to say they are only mints and swallow them with a strong drink. Then it is autumn in the body. Your hands are cold. Then it is winter and we are still at war. The gold-haired girl is singing into your ear about how we live in a beautiful country. Snow sifts from the clouds into your drink. It doesn't matter about the war. A good way to fall in love is to close up the garage and turn the engine on, then down you'll fall through lovely mists as a body might fall early one morning from a high window into love. Love, the broken glass. Love, the scissors and the water basin. A good way to fall is with a rope to catch you. A good way is with something to drink to help you march forward. The gold-haired girl says, Don't worry about the armies, says, We live in a time full of love. You're thinking about this too much. Slow down. Nothing bad will happen.
Copyright © 2011 by Kevin Prufer. Reprinted from In a Beautiful Country with the permission of Four Way Books.
You stand at the counter, pouring boiling water
over the French roast, oily perfume rising in smoke.
And when I enter, you don’t look up.
You’re hurrying to pack your lunch, snapping
the lids on little plastic boxes while you call your mother
to tell her you’ll take her to the doctor.
I can’t see a trace of the little slice of heaven
we slipped into last night—a silk kimono
floating satin ponds and copper koi, stars falling
to the water. Didn’t we shoulder
our way through the cleft in the rock of the everyday
and tear up the grass in the pasture of pleasure?
If the soul isn’t a separate vessel
we carry from form to form,
but more like Aristotle’s breath of life—
the work of the body that keeps it whole—
then last night, darling, our souls were busy.
But this morning it’s like you’re wearing a bad wig,
disguised so I won’t recognize you
or maybe so you won’t know yourself
as that animal burned down
to pure desire. I don’t know
how you do it. I want to throw myself
onto the kitchen tile and bare my throat.
I want to slick back my hair
and tap-dance up the wall. I want to do it all
all over again—dive back into that brawl,
that raw and radiant free-for-all.
But you are scribbling a shopping list
because the kids are coming for the weekend
and you’re going to make your special crab cakes
that have ruined me for all other crab cakes
From Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.
Out of the tense awed darkness, my Frangepani comes;
Whilst the blades of Heaven flash round her, and the roll of thunder drums
My young heart leaps and dances, with exquisite joy and pain,
As storms within and storms without I meet my love in the rain.
“The rain is in love with you darling; it’s kissing you everywhere,
Rain pattering over your small brown feet, rain in your curly hair;
Rain in the vale that your twin breasts make, as in delicate mounds they rise,
I hope there is rain in your heart, Frangepani, as rain half fills your eyes.”
Into my hands she cometh, and the lightning of my desire
Flashes and leaps about her, more subtle than Heaven’s fire;
“The lightning’s in love with you darling; it is loving you so much,
That its warm electricity in you pulses wherever I may touch.
When I kiss your lips and your eyes, and your hands like twin flowers apart,
I know there is lightning, Frangepani, deep in the depths of your heart.”
The thunder rumbles about us, and I feel its triumphant note
As your warm arms steal around me; and I kiss your dusky throat;
“The thunder’s in love with you darling. It hides its power in your breast.
And I feel it stealing o’er me as I lie in your arms at rest.
I sometimes wonder, beloved, when I drink from life’s proffered bowl,
Whether there’s thunder hidden in the innermost parts of your soul.”
Out of my arms she stealeth; and I am left alone with the night,
Void of all sounds save peace, the first faint glimmer of light.
Into the quiet, hushed stillness my Frangepani goes.
Is there peace within like the peace without? Only the darkness knows.
From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.
In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
--"Long Pig," the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
--Aunt Consuelo's voice--
not very loud or long.
I wasn't at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn't. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I--we--were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world.
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
--I couldn't look any higher--
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.
Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts--
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How--I didn't know any
word for it--how "unlikely". . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn't?
The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another.
Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.
From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Used with permission.
Unique, I think, is the Scottish tartle, that hesitation
when introducing someone whose name you’ve forgotten
And what could capture cafuné, the Brazilian Portuguese way to say
running your fingers, tenderly, through someone’s hair?
Is there a term in any tongue for choosing to be happy?
And where is speech for the block of ice we pack in the sawdust of our hearts?
What appellation approaches the smell of apricots thickening the air
when you boil jam in early summer?
What words reach the way I touched you last night—
as though I had never known a woman—an explorer,
wholly curious to discover each particular
fold and hollow, without guide,
not even the mirror of my own body.
Last night you told me you liked my eyebrows.
You said you never really noticed them before.
What is the word that fuses this freshness
with the pity of having missed it.
And how even touch itself cannot mean the same to both of us,
even in this small country of our bed,
even in this language with only two native speakers.
Originally published in The New Yorker. Copyright © 2015 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of the poet.
It’s neither red
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
It doesn’t have
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
just a thick clutch
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—
but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,
Copyright © 2017 Rita Dove. Used with permission of the author.
THE POOL PLAYERS.
SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
From The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harpers. © 1960 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.