Come, said my Soul
Such verses for my Body let us write, (for we are one,)
That should I after death invisibly return,
Or, long, long hence, in other spheres,
There to some group of mates the chants resuming,
(Tallying Earth’s soil, trees, winds, tumultuous waves,)
Ever with pleas’d smiles I may keep on,
Ever and ever yet the verses owning — as, first, I here and now,
Signing for Soul and Body, set to them my name,
This poem is in the public domain.
Light the first light of evening, as in a room In which we rest and, for small reason, think The world imagined is the ultimate good. This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous. It is in that thought that we collect ourselves, Out of all the indifferences, into one thing: Within a single thing, a single shawl Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth, A light, a power, the miraculous influence. Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves. We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole, A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous. Within its vital boundary, in the mind. We say God and the imagination are one... How high that highest candle lights the dark. Out of this same light, out of the central mind, We make a dwelling in the evening air, In which being there together is enough.
From The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Used with permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
For the first time tonight,
as I put my wife to bed
I didn't have to shove her off me.
She turned away in her sleep.
I wondered what was wrong with my chest.
I felt it, and the collar bone
spiked up, and where she'd rest
her cheek were ribs.
Who wants to cuddle a skeleton?
My skeleton wandered from the house
and out onto the street.
He came, after much wandering, to the edge of a bay
where a long bridge headed out—
the kind that hangs itself with steel
and sways as if the wind could take
away its weight.
There were mountains in the distance—
triangles of cardboard—
or perhaps the mist was tricking his eyes.
The instant the mist made him doubtful,
it turned to rain.
The rain covered everything. The holes
in his face were so heavy
he wondered if the water was thickening—
if he was leaching into them.
He panicked. Perhaps he was gunked up
with that disgusting paste,
flesh, all over again.
If I were alive I'd have told him
I was nothing like what he was feeling—
that the rain felt more like
the shell of a crab
than the way I'd held him.
That it felt more like him.
But I wasn't alive—
I was the ghost in the bridge
willing the cars to join me,
telling them that death was not wind,
was not weight,
was not mist,
and certainly not the mountains—
that it was the breaking apart,
the replacement of who, when, how, and where
When my skeleton looked down
he was corrupted
in the femur by fracture,
something swelling within.
Out of him leaked pink moss.
Water took it away.
From The Final Voicemails. Copyright © 2018 by Max Ritvo. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions.
Today I woke up in my body
and wasn’t that body anymore.
It’s more like my dog—
for the most part obedient,
warming to me
when I slip it goldfish or toast,
but it sheds.
Can’t get past a simple sit,
stay, turn over. House-trained, but not entirely.
This doesn’t mean it’s time to say goodbye.
I’ve realized the estrangement
is temporary, and for my own good:
My body’s work to break the world
into bricks and sticks
has turned inward.
As all the doors in the world
a big white bed is being put up in my heart.
Copyright © 2017 by Max Ritvo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I found myself unable to consume
the scallops after reflection—
their whole lives were
eating and suffocating.
This is much sadder than tortured people—
in extreme pain we leave our bodies
and look down to commit the pain
to memory like studious angels.
The waiter brought me two fortune cookies.
One future was traumatic enough.
I decided to open just one cookie—
the one on my right side.
It said in blue on a thin white strip,
You must learn to love yourself.
The cookie was much less sweet
than my psychiatrist.
Earlier that day he said he was proud
that as my tumors grow
my self-loathing seems to shrink.
My teeth made the cookie blades
that cut my tongue, and I spat it out.
I was seized with a question for Dr. Possick,
but he was on the other coast, fast asleep.
I would've asked
If all of me is the part that's loving
what is left to love?
I was suddenly overwhelmed with certainty
that the second cookie could answer my question.
I imagined the paper as a body—
a second body for me,
baking in a clay oven
half beneath it and half overhead.
I didn't open the cookie, though.
I have to grow up at some point—
my imagination can't always be kicking fate
as if it were the floor at a stupid party.
But when you decide someone has something to say
their silences speak to you too—
The cookie's clear wrapper had a rooster printed on it,
the lamp's reflection made a little sun
clutched by the talons, deep in the clay:
What is left to love
is the part of you that is already dead.
The dead part of me
is very busy preparing heaven for the rest.
He envisions it as a dream cemetery:
no rabbis, wildflowers and scrub everywhere,
rolling hills with nothing marked,
computer chips clipped to the ears of the dead
so that loved ones can visit the exact spot.
He is unskilled with his hands,
but he's moneyed and shouts well.
It's hard to love people committed to projects:
when I tell him he's abusing the labor
he smiles proudly and says, God can only do good,
I can do good and bad.
From The Final Voicemails. Copyright © 2018 by Max Ritvo. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions.
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo, or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey—
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter—
But all of them sensible everyday names,
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum—
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover—
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular name.
From Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Copyright © 1939 by T. S. Eliot, renewed © 1967 by Esme Valerie Eliot. Used with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
So concludes an essay on “Fern Hill,” in which the student seems
somewhere between jazzed up & pissed off that green might mean
so many things from one stanza to the next: here, a blooming
Eden proxy; here, rot made by the grip of time. For starters. Or
that sun-slaked field, not far from our classroom, as lush-green
as any Welsh farmyard, greyed overnight with frost. Emerald
beer bottle hurled from a car. The slack-jawed lime-green
goblin face spanning a front porch post-Halloween
for so many weeks it looks like it’s here to stay. The long-ago
brown-green of Cleveland, where it rained always & without pity
upon a past I crave despite myself & our team lost always 14—2.
Every time we waited in the bleachers for the game to resume,
my father would look down upon the outfield’s diagonal lines
& proclaim Still a lot of green out there, meaning anything
can happen & will. Have you ever heard in a crowd the saddest part
of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” where everyone lies & pretends
we don’t care if we ever get back & makes the last word echo
twice more? We always want to get back, whether or not
we’re hailing childhood green. Like the student in her essay,
I too could keep rattling off images of spring & decay—June
sunset horizon flash, summer hair stained olive from churning
over-chlorinated pools, green shadow of a hand somewhere
that makes it feel as if owls were bearing everything away—
instead of looking again at the image online I glimpsed before
returning to the still-ungraded hay-high stack of student work.
Maybe you saw it too? Maybe you also had the spellbound luck
of wandering to other tasks instead of asking what it means to know
anything can happen in a wholly different way, instead of looking
once more at the slash of police tape that is the only horizon
that matters just now for the two men in the photograph who sit
together on the curb, faces glowing blue-red in the lights, both of them
bleary-eyed but alive, swaddled in aftermath & a blanket that is green,
a detail that couldn’t matter less, given how the numbers of the dead
still rise. Here we are again, as inevitable as the clock’s tick, looking in
at a place that now will never be young. Is there a way to say it—
There’s been a shooting—that will allow it to be heard, remembered
& heard without the easy glide of our past tense? That will stop us
from wanting to turn to anything under the wide starry sky that is not
the green fire burning in the minds of those men or the green
of a blanket America provides & provides without change?
Copyright © 2019 by Matt Donovan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 19, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
They are all gone away, The House is shut and still, There is nothing more to say. Through broken walls and gray The winds blow bleak and shrill: They are all gone away. Nor is there one to-day To speak them good or ill: There is nothing more to say. Why is it then we stray Around the sunken sill? They are all gone away, And our poor fancy-play For them is wasted skill: There is nothing more to say. There is ruin and decay In the House on the Hill: They are all gone away, There is nothing more to say.
This poem is in the public domain.
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord's poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.
Lines 695-768 from Fragment B of Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart.