Vivian St. John (1881-1974)

There is a train inside this iris:

You think I'm crazy, & like to say boyish
& outrageous things. No, there is

A train inside this iris.

It's a child's finger bearded in black banners.
A single window like a child's nail,

A darkened porthole lit by the white, angular face

Of an old woman, or perhaps the boy beside her in the stuffy,
Hot compartment. Her hair is silver, & sweeps

Back off her forehead, onto her cold and bruised shoulders.

The prairies fail along Chicago. Past the five
Lakes. Into the black woods of her New York; & as I bend

Close above the iris, I see the train

Drive deep into the damp heart of its stem, & the gravel
Of the garden path

Cracks under my feet as I walk this long corridor

Of elms, arched
Like the ceiling of a French railway pier where a boy

With pale curls holding

A fresh iris is waving goodbye to a grandmother, gazing
A long time

Into the flower, as if he were looking some great

Distance, or down an empty garden path & he believes a man 
Is walking toward him, working

Dull shears in one hand; & now believe me: The train

Is gone. The old woman is dead, & the boy. The iris curls,
On its stalk, in the shade

Of those elms: Where something like the icy & bitter fragrance

In the wake of a woman who's just swept past you on her way
Home

& you remain.

From Study for the World's Body, published by HarperCollins, 1994. Copyright © 1991 by David St. John. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The man at the table across from mine
is eating yogurt. His eyes, following
the progress of the spoon, cross briefly
each time it nears his face. Time,
and the world with all its principalities,
might come to an end as prophesied
by the Apostle John, but what about
this man, so completely present
to the little carton with its cool,
sweet food, which has caused no animal
to suffer, and which he is eating
with a pearl-white plastic spoon.

Jane Kenyon, "Man Eating" from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, graywolfpress.org.

Yes, long shadows go out
from the bales; and yes, the soul
must part from the body:
what else could it do?

The men sprawl near the baler, 
too tired to leave the field.
They talk and smoke,
and the tips of their cigarettes
blaze like small roses 
in the night air. (It arrived
and settled among them
before they were aware.)

The moon comes 
to count the bales,
and the dispossessed--
Whip-poor-will, Whip-poor-will
--sings from the dusty stubble.

These things happen. . .the soul's bliss
and suffering are bound together
like the grasses. . .

The last, sweet exhalations
of timothy and vetch
go out with the song of the bird; 
the ravaged field
grows wet with dew.

From Otherwise: New & Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 1996 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.

We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping. 
Wind moves the leaves of the box elder; 
they show their light undersides,
turning all at once
like a school of fish. 
Suddenly I understand that I am happy. 
For months this feeling 
has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.

From Otherwise: New & Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 1996 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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.

From Otherwise: New & Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 1996 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.

          If many remedies are prescribed
          for an illness, you may be certain
          that the illness has no cure.
                              A. P. CHEKHOV
                             The Cherry Orchard

 

1  FROM THE NURSERY

When I was born, you waited 
behind a pile of linen in the nursery, 
and when we were alone, you lay down 
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on 
everything under the sun and moon 
made me sad—even the yellow 
wooden beads that slid and spun 
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude. 
You ruined my manners toward God:
"We're here simply to wait for death; 
the pleasures of earth are overrated."

I only appeared to belong to my mother, 
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts 
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases. 
I was already yours—the anti-urge, 
the mutilator of souls.


2  BOTTLES

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin, 
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, 
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft. 
The coated ones smell sweet or have 
no smell; the powdery ones smell 
like the chemistry lab at school 
that made me hold my breath.



3  SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND

You wouldn't be so depressed
if you really believed in God.



4  OFTEN

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner 
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away 
from the massive pain in sleep's 
frail wicker coracle.



5  ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT

Once, in my early thirties, I saw 
that I was a speck of light in the great 
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole 
human family. We were all colors—those 
who are living now, those who have died, 
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm, 
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood 
you came flying to pull me out 
of the glowing stream.
"I'll hold you up. I never let my dear 
ones drown!" After that, I wept for days.



6  IN AND OUT

The dog searches until he finds me 
upstairs, lies down with a clatter 
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing 
saves my life—in and out, in 
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . . 



7  PARDON

A piece of burned meat 
wears my clothes, speaks 
in my voice, dispatches obligations 
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying 
to be stouthearted, tired 
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine 
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night 
I feel as if I had drunk six cups 
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder 
and bitterness of someone pardoned 
for a crime she did not commit 
I come back to marriage and friends, 
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back 
to my desk, books, and chair.



8  CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work 
but I believe only in this moment 
of well-being. Unholy ghost, 
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet 
on the coffee table, lean back, 
and turn me into someone who can't 
take the trouble to speak; someone 
who can't sleep, or who does nothing 
but sleep; can't read, or call 
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do 
against your coming. 
When I awake, I am still with thee.



9  WOOD THRUSH

High on Nardil and June light 
I wake at four, 
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air 
presses through the screen 
with the wild, complex song 
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment. 
What hurt me so terribly 
all my life until this moment? 
How I love the small, swiftly 
beating heart of the bird 
singing in the great maples; 
its bright, unequivocal eye.

From Constance by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. © 1993 by Jane Kenyon. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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 ....

From The Boat of Quiet Hours by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. © 1986 by Jane Kenyon. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

“So Much Happiness” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, copyright © 1995. Reprinted with the permission of Far Corner Books.

     “We clean to give space for Art.”
        Micaela Miranda, Freedom Theatre, Palestine

Work was a shining refuge when wind sank its tooth
into my mind. Everything we love is going away,
drifting – but you could sweep this stretch of floor,
this patio or porch, gather white stones in a bucket,
rake the patch for future planting, mop the counter
with a rag. Lovely wet gray rag, squeeze it hard
it does so much. Clear the yard of blowing bits of plastic.
The glory in the doing. The breath of the doing.
Sometimes the simplest move kept fear from
fragmenting into no energy at all, or sorrow from
multiplying, or sorrow from being the only person
living in the house.

 

Copyright © by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of the author.

Tiny keyboard bearing the massive reverie of the past—
press one button, we’re carried away on a country road,
marching with saints, leaving the Red River Valley...
here is every holiday you hated, every hard time,
each steamy summer wish. You closed your eyes
in the wooden stairwell, leaning your head against the wall,
knowing a bigger world loomed. It’s still out there,
and it’s tucked in this keyboard too,
now we are an organ, now we are an oboe,
now we are young or ancient,
now we are smelling wallpaper in the house
our grandfather sold with every cabinet,
table and doily included,
but we are still adrift, floating,
thrum-full of longing layers of sound.

Copyright @ 2014 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2014.

     Yes       Yes

        I see it

so they won’t keep telling you

           where it is

Originally published in Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011). Copyright © by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

When you quietly close
the door to a room
the room is not finished.

It is resting. Temporarily.
Glad to be without you
for a while.

Now it has time to gather
its balls of gray dust,
to pitch them from corner to corner.

Now it seeps back into itself,
unruffled and proud.
Outlines grow firmer.

When you return,
you might move the stack of books,
freshen the water for the roses.

I think you could keep doing this
forever. But the blue chair looks best
with the red pillow. So you might as well

leave it that way.

From Honeybee (Greenwillow Books, 2008) by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright @2008 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with permission of the author.

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "The Rider" from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

"How do you know if you are going to die?"
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
"When you can no longer make a fist."

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Published by Far Corner. Reprinted with permission of the author. Copyright © 1995 Naomi Shihab Nye.

“It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an 
object of worship —why I haven’t been able to find out. From Egypt the onion 
entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe.” — Better Living Cookbook

When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way the knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.
And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,
disappear.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “The Traveling Onion” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

The man with laughing eyes stopped smiling
to say, “Until you speak Arabic,
you will not understand pain.”

Something to do with the back of the head, 
an Arab carries sorrow in the back of the head,
that only language cracks, the thrum of stones

weeping, grating hinge on an old metal gate. 
“Once you know,” he whispered, “you can
     enter the room
whenever you need to. Music you heard
     from a distance,

the slapped drum of a stranger’s wedding,
well up inside your skin, inside rain, a thousand
pulsing tongues. You are changed.”

Outside, the snow has finally stopped. 
In a land where snow rarely falls,
we had felt our days grow white and still. 

I thought pain had no tongue. Or every tongue
at once, supreme translator, sieve. I admit my
shame. To live on the brink of Arabic, tugging

its rich threads without understanding 
how to weave the rug…I have no gift. 
The sound, but not the sense. 

I kept looking over his shoulder for someone else
to talk to, recalling my dying friend
     who only scrawled 
I can’t write. What good would any grammar
     have been

to her then? I touched his arm, held it hard,
which sometimes you don’t do in the Middle East,
and said, I’ll work on it, feeling sad

for his good strict heart, but later in the slick street
hailed a taxi by shouting Pain! and it stopped
in every language and opened its doors.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "Arabic" from Red Suitcase. Copyright © 1994 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

(Mather AFB, California, 1956)

When we play horses at recess, my name
is Moonlily and I’m a yearling mare.
We gallop circles around the playground,
whinnying, neighing, and shaking our manes.
We scrape the ground with scuffed saddle oxfords,
thunder around the little kids on swings
and seesaws, and around the boys’ ball games.
We’re sorrel, chestnut, buckskin, pinto, gray,
a herd in pastel dresses and white socks.
We’re self-named, untamed, untouched, unridden.
Our plains know no fences. We can smell spring.
The bell produces metamorphosis.
Still hot and flushed, we file back to our desks,
one bay in a room of palominos.

From How I Discovered Poetry (Dial Books, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Marilyn Nelson. Used with permission of the author and Penguin Books.

Slap of the screen door, flat knock
of my grandmother's boxy black shoes
on the wooden stoop, the hush and sweep 
of her knob-kneed, cotton-aproned stride 
out to the edge and then, toed in
with a furious twist and heave, 
a bridge that leaps from her hot red hands
and hangs there shining for fifty years
over the mystified chickens, 
over the swaying nettles, the ragweed,
the clay slope down to the creek, 
over the redwing blackbirds in the tops
of the willows, a glorious rainbow
with an empty dishpan swinging at one end.

From Delights and Shadows by Ted Kooser. Copyright 2004 Ted Kooser. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

I liked how the starry blue lid
of that saucepan lifted and puffed,
then settled back on a thin
hotpad of steam, and the way
her kitchen filled with the warm,
wet breath of apples, as if all
the apples were talking at once,
as if they’d come cold and sour
from chores in the orchard,
and were trying to shoulder in
close to the fire. She was too busy
to put in her two cents’ worth
talking to apples. Squeezing
her dentures with wrinkly lips,
she had to jingle and stack
the bright brass coins of the lids
and thoughtfully count out
the red rubber rings, then hold
each jar, to see if it was clean,
to a window that looked out
through her back yard into Iowa.
And with every third or fourth jar
she wiped steam from her glasses,
using the hem of her apron,
printed with tiny red sailboats
that dipped along with leaf-green
banners snapping, under puffs
or pale applesauce clouds
scented with cinnamon and cloves,
the only boats under sail
for at least two thousand miles.

From Delights and Shadows (Copper Canyon Press, 2004). Copyright © 2004 by Ted Kooser. Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press.

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.

From Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985, by Ted Kooser, © 2005. Reprinted with permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

This evening, I sat by an open window
and read till the light was gone and the book
was no more than a part of the darkness. 
I could easily have switched on a lamp, 
but I wanted to ride this day down into night,
to sit alone and smooth the unreadable page 
with the pale gray ghost of my hand.

From Delights and Shadows by Ted Kooser. Copyright © 2004 by Ted Kooser. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org. All rights reserved.

I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title. 
It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now 
so immediately the poem has my attention, 
like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve. 

And I like the first couple of stanzas, 
the way they establish this mode of self-pointing 
that runs through the whole poem 
and tells us that words are food thrown down 
on the ground for other words to eat. 
I can almost taste the tail of the snake 
in its own mouth, 
if you know what I mean. 

But what I’m not sure about is the voice, 
which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans, 
but other times seems standoffish, 
professorial in the worst sense of the word 
like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face. 
But maybe that’s just what it wants to do. 

What I did find engaging were the middle stanzas, 
especially the fourth one. 
I like the image of clouds flying like lozenges 
which gives me a very clear picture. 
And I really like how this drawbridge operator 
just appears out of the blue 
with his feet up on the iron railing 
and his fishing pole jigging—I like jigging— 
a hook in the slow industrial canal below. 
I love slow industrial canal below. All those l’s. 

Maybe it’s just me, 
but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem. 
I mean how can the evening bump into the stars? 
And what’s an obbligato of snow? 
Also, I roam the decaffeinated streets. 
At that point I’m lost. I need help. 

The other thing that throws me off, 
and maybe this is just me, 
is the way the scene keeps shifting around. 
First, we’re in this big aerodrome 
and the speaker is inspecting a row of dirigibles, 
which makes me think this could be a dream. 
Then he takes us into his garden, 
the part with the dahlias and the coiling hose, 
though that’s nice, the coiling hose, 
but then I’m not sure where we’re supposed to be. 
The rain and the mint green light, 
that makes it feel outdoors, but what about this wallpaper? 
Or is it a kind of indoor cemetery? 
There’s something about death going on here. 

In fact, I start to wonder if what we have here 
is really two poems, or three, or four, 
or possibly none. 

But then there’s that last stanza, my favorite. 
This is where the poem wins me back, 
especially the lines spoken in the voice of the mouse. 
I mean we’ve all seen these images in cartoons before, 
but I still love the details he uses 
when he’s describing where he lives. 
The perfect little arch of an entrance in the baseboard, 
the bed made out of a curled-back sardine can, 
the spool of thread for a table. 
I start thinking about how hard the mouse had to work 
night after night collecting all these things 
while the people in the house were fast asleep, 
and that gives me a very strong feeling, 
a very powerful sense of something. 
But I don’t know if anyone else was feeling that. 
Maybe that was just me. 
Maybe that’s just the way I read it. 

"Workshop" from The Art of Drowning, by Billy Collins, © 1995. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

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.

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 of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing Corp. Used with permission.

                   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
Die soon.

From The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harpers. © 1960 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
          is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
          tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

From The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harpers. © 1960 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

(Lines on the loss of the "Titanic")

I

     In a solitude of the sea
     Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

II

     Steel chambers, late the pyres
     Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.

III

     Over the mirrors meant
     To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls—grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

IV

     Jewels in joy designed
     To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

V

     Dim moon-eyed fishes near
     Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?". . .

VI

     Well: while was fashioning
     This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

VII

     Prepared a sinister mate
     For her—so gaily great—
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.

VIII

     And as the smart ship grew
     In stature, grace, and hue
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

IX

     Alien they seemed to be:
     No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history.

X

     Or sign that they were bent
     By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one August event,

XI

     Till the Spinner of the Years
     Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

This poem is in the public domain.

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

From Collected Poems of Stevie Smith by Stevie Smith, published by New Directions Publishing Corp. Copyright © 1972 by Stevie Smith. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

All night the cocks crew, under a moon like day,
And I, in the cage of sleep, on a stranger's breast,
Shed tears, like a task not to be put away---
In the false light, false grief in my happy bed,
A labor of tears, set against joy's undoing.
I would not wake at your word, I had tears to say.
I clung to the bars of the dream and they were said,
And pain's derisive hand had given me rest
From the night giving off flames, and the dark renewing.

From The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968 by Louise Bogan, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Copyright © 1968 Louise Bogan. Used with permission.

     S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
     A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
     Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
     Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
     Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
     Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
     So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
     And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
     And should I then presume?
     And how should I begin?

          . . . . .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

          . . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep… tired… or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
     Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
     That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
     “That is not it at all,
     That is not what I meant, at all.”

          . . . . .

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Published in 1915. This poem is in the public domain.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

I

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

When my mother died
I was as far away
as I could be, on an arm of land
floating in the Atlantic
where boys walk shirtless
down the avenue
holding hands, and gulls sleep
on the battered pilings,
their bright beaks hidden
beneath one white wing. 

Maricopa, Arizona. Mea Culpa.
I did not fly to see your body
and instead stepped out
on a balcony in my slip
to watch the stars turn
on their grinding wheel. 
Early August, the ocean,
a salt-tinged breeze.

Botanists use the word
serotinous to describe
late-blossoming, serotinal
for the season of late-summer.
I did not write your obituary
as my sister requested, could
not compose such final lines:
I closed the piano
to keep the music in.
Instead

I stood with you
on what now seems 
like the ancient deck
of a great ship, our nightgowns
flaring, the smell of dying lilacs
drifting up from someone’s
untended yard, and we
listened to the stars hiss
into the bent horizon, blossoms
the sea gathered tenderly, each
shattered and singular one
long dead, but even so, incandescent,
making a singed sound, singing
as they went. 
 

Copyright © 2017 by Dorianne Laux. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don't know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.

Copyright © 2016 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 1, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.