Today in 1862
Claude Debussy was born.
I remember where I was and what I was doing
one hundred years and two months later:
elementary algebra, trombone practice,
Julius Caesar on the record player
with Brando as Antony, simple
buttonhook patterns in football,
the French subjunctive, and the use
of "quarantine" rather than "blockade"
during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
It was considered the less belligerent word.
Much was made of it in 1962,
centenary of Debussy’s birth.
And if today I play his Rhapsody
for Saxophone and Orchestra

for the ten minutes it requires of
my undivided attention, who will attack me for
living in Paris in 1908 instead of now?
Let them. I'll take my stand,
my music stand, with the composer
of my favorite Danse Tarantelle.

Copyright © 2013 by David Lehman. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 22, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

the moon might rise and it might not
and if it brings a ghost light we will read beneath it

and if it returns to earth
we will listen for its phrases

and if I’m alone at the bedside table
I will have a ghost book to refer to

and when I lie back I’ll see its imprint
beneath my blood-red lids:

not lettered ink
but the clean page

not sugar
but the empty bowl

not flowers
but the dirt

 

*

 

blame the egg blame the fractured stones
at the bottom of the mind

blame his darkblue glare and craggy mug
the bulky king of trudge and stein

how I love a masculine in my parlor
his grizzly shout and weight one hundred drums

in this everywhere of blunt and soft sinking
I am the heavy hollow snared

the days are spring the days are summer
the days are nothing and not dead yet

 

*

 

worry the river over its banks
the train into flames

worry the black rain into the city
the troops into times square

worry the windows cracked acidblack
and the children feverblistered

worry never another summer
never again to live here gentle
with the other inhabitants

then leave too quickly
leave the pills and band-aids
the bathroom scale the Christmas lights the dog

go walking on our legs
dense and bare and useless

worry our throats and lungs
into taking the air

leave books on the shelves
leave keys dustpan

telephones don’t work where you were
in the chaos

 

*

 

and I couldn’t bear it
the children nearing the place
where the waves wet the shore

vaporous force
rising imperceptibly behind

we were talking about circumstance
horizon-gates swinging open
beneath the cherry blooms

wave rising in the background
impalpable and final
a girl in a white dress       barefoot

wasn’t I right to ask her to move in from the shore

 

*

 

this is the last usable hour

bird lured
through the window

a little sweet fruit

I could die here
and the hearsedriver
would take me out of this city

I’d say my name to him
as we crossed the Triboro

I’d say it softly         the way he likes it

it would be the last time
I’d introduce myself that way

Copyright © 2011 by Deborah Landau. Reprinted from The Last Usable Hour with the permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Coming at an end, the lovers
Are exhausted like two swimmers. Where
Did it end? There is no telling. No love is
Like an ocean with the dizzy procession of the waves’ boundaries
From which two can emerge exhausted, nor long goodbye
Like death.
Coming at an end. Rather, I would say, like a length
Of coiled rope
Which does not disguise in the final twists of its lengths
Its endings.
But, you will say, we loved
And some parts of us loved
And the rest of us will remain
Two persons. Yes,
Poetry ends like a rope.

From A Book of Music by Jack Spicer. Appears in My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan University Press, 2008). Used by permission.

Traveling over your body I found

The failing olive and the cajoling flute,

Where I knelt down, as if in prayer,

And sucked a moist pit

From the marl

Of the earth in a sacred cove.


You gave yourself to the god who comes,

The liberator of the loud shout,

While I fell into a trance,

Blood on my lips,

And stumbled into a temple on top

Of a hill at the bottom of the sky.

Copyright © 2013 by Edward Hirsch. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on April 25, 2013. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

From harmony, from heavenly harmony,   
      This universal frame began:   
  When nature underneath a heap   
      Of jarring atoms lay,   
    And could not heave her head, 
The tuneful voice was heard from high,   
    ‘Arise, ye more than dead!’   
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,   
  In order to their stations leap,   
     And Music’s power obey. 
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,   
   This universal frame began:   
   From harmony to harmony   
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,   
The diapason closing full in Man. 
  
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?   
    When Jubal struck the chorded shell,   
  His listening brethren stood around,   
    And, wondering, on their faces fell   
  To worship that celestial sound: 
Less than a God they thought there could not dwell   
    Within the hollow of that shell,   
    That spoke so sweetly, and so well.   
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?   
  
    The trumpet’s loud clangour  
      Excites us to arms,   
    With shrill notes of anger,   
      And mortal alarms.   
  The double double double beat   
      Of the thundering drum 
      Cries Hark! the foes come;   
  Charge, charge, 'tis too late to retreat!   
  
    The soft complaining flute,   
    In dying notes, discovers   
    The woes of hopeless lovers, 
Whose dirge is whisper'd by the warbling lute.   
  
    Sharp violins proclaim   
  Their jealous pangs and desperation,   
  Fury, frantic indignation,   
  Depth of pains, and height of passion, 
    For the fair, disdainful dame.   
  
    But O, what art can teach,   
    What human voice can reach,   
      The sacred organ’s praise?   
    Notes inspiring holy love, 
  Notes that wing their heavenly ways   
    To mend the choirs above.   
  
  Orpheus could lead the savage race;   
  And trees unrooted left their place,   
    Sequacious of the lyre; 
But bright Cecilia rais’d the wonder higher:   
When to her organ vocal breath was given,   
  An angel heard, and straight appear’d   
    Mistaking Earth for Heaven.   
  
GRAND CHORUS.


As from the power of sacred lays 
  The spheres began to move,   
And sung the great Creator’s praise   
  To all the Blest above;   
So when the last and dreadful hour   
This crumbling pageant shall devour, 
The trumpet shall be heard on high,   
The dead shall live, the living die,   
And Music shall untune the sky!

1687

If you, Tom, could see this inflight video map

of the world turning wildly on its axis

you would not, I think, be mad, though it is not

on paper, and that is what you do, but it is

a useful thing to see the earth twisted up like this;

it is our minds that are twisted, and you

are twisted too around a spoon, and drunk, I’m sure

by now, like me, past Newfoundland’s shore

with other peoples’ wine and dotted lines

to Bruxelles where I will only be

to switch planes, but you, I think, first went

there of all the other places you’ve been,

gobbling up the light as you went,

sending presents wrapped in maps.

Copyright © 2013 by Matthew Rohrer. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2013.

As when the hunt by holt and field
   Drives on with horn and strife,
Hunger of hopeless things pursues
   Our spirits throughout life.

The sea's roar fills us aching full
   Of objectless desire—
The sea's roar, and the white moon-shine,
   And the reddening of the fire.

Who talks to me of reason now?
   It would be more delight
To have died in Cleopatra's arms
   Than be alive to-night.

This poem is in the public domain.

He glides in on his single wing, after the signs go up. After
the truck leaves with the bunkbeds, grill, broken hall mirror.
After Scout is dropped off at the shelter. After the last look,

on the dying lawn. In the backyard, where the empty pool
stands open; he pops an ollie over the cracked patterns of tile:
tidal waves in neat squares. He kneels, checking angle against

depth. He lifts off where the board once leapt and leapt: cannon-
balls, swans: endless summer. He hurtles downward, kickturning,
sparks grinding hard on gunnite. Round the bend: the kidney,

the heart. The stone path where once glowed tiki torches at
the kingdom’s ukelele gate. He rockets out of the dead lots each
day, past swingsets and shut-off sprinklers, his board struck up

from whirlwind. Nobody’s home to the ownerless: he turns
inside their names, never minds ghosts, nothing in his wake.

Copyright © 2013 by Carol Muske-Dukes. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on May 20, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

From Ahead of All Parting: Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell and published by Modern Library. © 1995 by Stephen Mitchell. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;	
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells	
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's	
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;	
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:	        
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;	
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,	
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.	
 
Í say móre: the just man justices;	
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;	        
Acts in God's eye what in God’s eye he is—	
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,	
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his	
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

This poem is in the public domain.

A four-armed flutist took me
to the blue avatar: stone-blue
monkey, whiskers silver,
broken beads silver–
paint dashed by the artist on cheap paper.
Bought for a few annas, God
kneels, looks left. Intense concentration.
His ink hands rip open his chest,
pull skin aside like a velvet curtain–
Rama and Sita alive
at his core. And what devotion shall
my flesh show, and my broken-open breast.
His blueblack tail flicks upward, its dark
tip a paintbrush loaded blue.

Copyright © 2013 by Joan Larkin. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on May 14, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

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.

David Romtvedt, Some Church (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by David Romtvedt. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions. www.milkweed.org.

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.

By Federico García Lorca, translated and edited by Robert Bly, and published by Beacon Press in Selected Poems: Lorca and Jiménez. © 1973 by Robert Bly. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

I watched you walking up out of that hole

All day it had been raining
in that field in Southern Italy

rain beating down making puddles in the mud
hissing down on rocks from a sky enraged

I waited and was patient
finally you emerged and were immediately soaked

you stared at me without love in your large eyes
that were filled with black sex and white powder

but this is what I expected when I embraced you
Your firm little breasts against my amplitude

Get in the car I said
and then it was spring

From The Book of Seventy. Copyright © 2009 by Alicia Ostriker. Used with permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

There are five possibilities. One: Adam fell.
Two: he was pushed. Three: he jumped. Four:
he only looked over the edge, and one look silenced him.
Five: nothing worth mentioning happened to Adam.

The first, that he fell, is too simple. The fourth,
fear, we have tried and found useless. The fifth,
nothing happened, is dull. The choice is between:
he jumped or was pushed. And the difference between these

is only an issue of whether the demons
work from the inside out or from the outside
in: the one
theological question.

From Selected Poems by Robert Bringhurst. Copyright © 2012 by Robert Bringhurst. Reprinted with permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

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.

Copyright © 2005 Jack Gilbert. From Refusing Heaven, 2005, Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission.


            sell me a clip-on
bow-tie or a mock
fringe chapeau worn on
the collarbone—a
new style of “shoulder
hat,” a cape to
protect your shoulders
from rain and chill and
to prevent the wearer
from sliding (like
Mickey Mantle) into
a third gender
 
__________
 
            now I’ve
reached the “clinker” zone
of perforated opportunities
 
__________
 
 
            —perforated appurtenances
 
____________
 
 
but then Edith Piaf
suddenly thrilled me
 
__________
 
            a newly
discovered Venezuela, a
view—
 
____________
 
            a rendre compte,
a liar on the corner
(thirsty corner) of
23rd and 9th, a gazelle,
a rendezvous chapel
 
 
__________
 
             (a chaplet of
daisies around my
pleurisy brow)—

Copyright © 2014 by Wayne Koestenbaum. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 3, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

   I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
I want to get far away from the busyness of the cemeteries.
I want to sleep the sleep of that child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.

   I don't want them to tell me again how the corpse keeps all its blood,
how the decaying mouth goes on begging for water.
I'd rather not hear about the torture sessions the grass arranges for
nor about how the moon does all its work before dawn
with its snakelike nose.

   I want to sleep for half a second,
a second, a minute, a century,
but I want everyone to know that I am still alive,
that I have a golden manger inside my lips,
that I am the little friend of the west wind,
that I am the elephantine shadow of my own tears.

   When it's dawn just throw some sort of cloth over me
because I know dawn will toss fistfuls of ants at me,
and pour a little hard water over my shoes
so that the scorpion claws of the dawn will slip off.

   Because I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
and learn a mournful song that will clean all earth away from me,
because I want to live with that shadowy child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.

By Federico García Lorca, translated and edited by Robert Bly, and published by Beacon Press in Selected Poems: Lorca and Jiménez. © 1973 by Robert Bly. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

The alpha You. The omega You.
My grandmother’s ghost, its girlish snafu
Basking in the waters of urgency.

But I want the coolness of snow.
I want pairs of hands that speak to me cleanly,
Sutras to resuscitate what reigns

Over warped celluloid and heirlooms I can’t touch.
There are no family photographs.
Once I was ordinary.

I rattled around with arms, with legs,
With a damp remembering that served me well.
Then, a little sleep, a little slumber,

A little folding of the hands to rest.
I asked myself, don’t you just love it?
And then, why don’t you just love it?

And then, from what grace have I fallen?
Am I Sisyphus with his mute rock
Unsettling the topsoil, dissolved now

Into brandied battle shouts and pages that breathe like people?
There are hazards here, more so than before
The Furies struck and scarved the white night sifting

The bright waterlights blinking
And grieving over a mash of ice.
Like them, I wanted only to die, moon-dark, blessed,

Poised beneath the driest arrows of my suffering,
Far from the flocks of burning, singing gulls,
Face to face with the God of my childhood.

"I am Like a Desert Owl, an Owl Among the Ruins" by Noelle Kocot. From Poem for the End of Time and Other Poems, © 2006 by Noelle Kocot, published by Wave Books.

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

From Collected Poems: 1939-1962, Volume II by William Carlos Williams, published by New Directions Publishing Corp. © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

To lie on these beaches for another summer
Would not become them at all,
And yet the water and her sands will suffer
When, in the fall,
These golden children will be taken from her.

It is not the gold they bring: enough of that
Has shone in the water for ages
And in the bright theater of Venice at their backs;
But the final stages
Of all those afternoons when they played and sat

And waited for a beckoning wind to blow them
Back over the water again
Are scenes most necessary to this ocean.
What actors then
Will play when these disperse from the sand below them?

All this over until, perhaps, next spring;
This last afternoon must be pleasing.
Europe, Europe is over, but they lie here still,
While the wind, increasing,
Sands teeth, sands eyes, sands taste, sands everything.

"Late August on the Lido" is reprinted with permission from Selected Poetry, Copyright © 1993 by John Hollander. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 20, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

for Joe Bataan

1

some waves
                     a wave of now
                                               a trombone speaking to you
a piano is trying to break a molecule
is trying to lift the stage into orbit
around the red spotlights

a shadow
the shadows      of dancers
dancers     they are dancing    falling
out that space      made for dancing

they should dance
on the tables            they should
dance inside of their drinks
they should dance on the
ceiling they should dance/dance

thru universes
leaning-moving
                          we are traveling

where are we going
if we only knew

with this rhythm    with
this banging     with     fire
with this     all    this    O
my god i wonder    where are
we going
           sink into a room full of laughter
           full of happiness     full of life
           those dancers
           the dancers
           are clapping their hands
           stomping their feet

hold back them tears
                                     all those sentimental stories
cooked uptown       if you can           hold it for after

we are going
                     away-away-away
                     beyond these wooden tables
                     beyond these red lights
                     beyond these rugs & paper
                     walls beyond way past
                     i mean way past them clouds
                     over the buildings    over the
                     rivers    over towns    over cities
                     like on rails   but faster   like
                     a train    but smoother
                     away past stars
                     bursting with drums.


2

a sudden misunderstanding
                                                a cloud
                                                full of grayness
a body thru a store window
                                                a hand reaching
                                                into the back
                                                                      pocket
a scream
               a piano is talking to you
               thru all this
               why don't you answer it.

From Maraca: New and Selected Poems 1965-2000 by Victor Hernández Cruz. Copyright © 2001 by Victor Hernández Cruz. Published by Coffee House Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

At home, the bells were a high light-yellow
with no silver or gray just buttercup or sugar-and-lemon.

Here bodies are lined in blue against the sea.
And where red is red there is only red.

I have to be blue to bathe in the sea.
Red, to live in the red room with red air

to rest my head, red cheek down, on the red table.

Above, it was so green: brown, yellow, white, green.
My longing for red furious, sexual.

There things were alive but nothing moved.
Now I live near the sea in a place which has no blue and is not the sea.

Gulls flock, leeward then tangent
and pigeons bully them off the ground.

Hardly alive, almost blind-a hot geometry casts off
every color of the world. Everything moves, nothing alive.

In the red room there is a sky which is painted over in red
but is not red and was, once, the sky.

This is how I live.

A red table in a red room filled with air.
A woman, edged in blue, bathing in the blue sea.

The surface like the pale, scaled skin of fish
far below or above or away—

 

From Eating in the Underworld by Rachel Zucker. Copyright © 2003 by Rachel Zucker. Reproduced by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

The week after you died, Mom,
you were in my checkout line,
little old lady who met my stare
with the fear, the yearning
of a mortal chosen by a god,
feeling herself change
painfully cell by cell
into a shadow, a laurel, you, a constellation.

Copyright © 2013 by James Richardson. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on May 28, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

A power is on the earth and in the air,
  From which the vital spirit shrinks afraid,
  And shelters him in nooks of deepest shade,
From the hot steam and from the fiery glare.
Look forth upon the earth—her thousand plants
  Are smitten; even the dark sun-loving maize
  Faints in the field beneath the torrid blaze;
The herd beside the shaded fountain pants;
For life is driven from all the landscape brown;
  The bird hath sought his tree, the snake his den,
  The trout floats dead in the hot stream, and men
Drop by the sunstroke in the populous town:
  As if the Day of Fire had dawned, and sent
  Its deadly breath into the firmament.

This poem is in the public domain.

My mother would be a falconress,
And I, her gay falcon treading her wrist,
would fly to bring back
from the blue of the sky to her, bleeding, a prize, 
where I dream in my little hood with many bells 
jangling when I'd turn my head.

My mother would be a falconress, 
and she sends me as far as her will goes. 
She lets me ride to the end of her curb 
where I fall back in anguish.
I dread that she will cast me away, 
for I fall, I mis-take, I fail in her mission.

She would bring down the little birds. 
And I would bring down the little birds. 
When will she let me bring down the little birds, 
pierced from their flight with their necks broken, 
their heads like flowers limp from the stem?

I tread my mother's wrist and would draw blood.
Behind the little hood my eyes are hooded.
I have gone back into my hooded silence,
talking to myself and dropping off to sleep.

For she has muffled my dreams in the hood she has made me, 
sewn round with bells, jangling when I move.
She rides with her little falcon upon her wrist. 
She uses a barb that brings me to cower. 
She sends me abroad to try my wings 
and I come back to her. I would bring down 
the little birds to her
I may not tear into, I must bring back perfectly.

I tear at her wrist with my beak to draw blood, 
and her eye holds me, anguisht, terrifying. 
She draws a limit to my flight.
Never beyond my sight, she says.
She trains me to fetch and to limit myself in fetching.
She rewards me with meat for my dinner.
But I must never eat what she sends me to bring her.

Yet it would have been beautiful, if she would have carried me, 
always, in a little hood with the bells ringing,
at her wrist, and her riding 
to the great falcon hunt, and me
flying up to the curb of my heart from her heart 
to bring down the skylark from the blue to her feet, 
straining, and then released for the flight.

My mother would be a falconress, 
and I her gerfalcon raised at her will, 
from her wrist sent flying, as if I were her own 
pride, as if her pride
knew no limits, as if her mind 
sought in me flight beyond the horizon.

Ah, but high, high in the air I flew. 
And far, far beyond the curb of her will, 
were the blue hills where the falcons nest. 
And then I saw west to the dying sun--
it seemd my human soul went down in flames.

I tore at her wrist, at the hold she had for me,
until the blood ran hot and I heard her cry out,
far, far beyond the curb of her will

to horizons of stars beyond the ringing hills of the world where
   the falcons nest
I saw, and I tore at her wrist with my savage beak.
I flew, as if sight flew from the anguish in her eye beyond her sight,
sent from my striking loose, from the cruel strike at her wrist,
striking out from the blood to be free of her.

My mother would be a falconress,
and even now, years after this,
when the wounds I left her had surely heald,
and the woman is dead,
her fierce eyes closed, and if her heart 
were broken, it is stilld

I would be a falcon and go free.
I tread her wrist and wear the hood,
talking to myself, and would draw blood.

From Bending the Bow, published by New Directions, 1968. Copyright © 1968 by Robert Duncan. Reprinted with permission.

The curtain is kind

of cool. Hitchcock
liked it. Why

not. Great place 

for getting shot
or famous or for 

bleeding back 

behind the iron 
one. The score

diegetic as they

come. Bernard 
Herrmann forever 

human. 

The gowns hanged
in greenroom ligature.

Edith Head never 

dead. Great place
for a nail-bomb.

A cold one.

Watch them watch 
their watches run

out of wick. 

Obviously this opera 
sort of sucks

you in or off

your seat. You
see phony fire 

and roar it too.

Copyright © 2011 by Ben Doller. Used with permission of the author.

 

I

 

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

 

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!

 

II

 

Thou on whose stream, ‘mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like Earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

 

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: O hear!

 

III

 

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,

 

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’s bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know
Thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!

 

IV

 

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

 

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne’er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

 

V

 

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

 

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

This poem is in the public domain.

My dear Telemachus,
                   The Trojan War 
is over now; I don't recall who won it. 
The Greeks, no doubt, for only they would leave
so many dead so far from their own homeland. 
But still, my homeward way has proved too long. 
While we were wasting time there, old Poseidon, 
it almost seems, stretched and extended space.

I don't know where I am or what this place 
can be. It would appear some filthy island, 
with bushes, buildings, and great grunting pigs. 
A garden choked with weeds; some queen or other. 
Grass and huge stones . . . Telemachus, my son! 
To a wanderer the faces of all islands 
resemble one another. And the mind 
trips, numbering waves; eyes, sore from sea horizons, 
run; and the flesh of water stuffs the ears. 
I can't remember how the war came out; 
even how old you are--I can't remember.

Grow up, then, my Telemachus, grow strong. 
Only the gods know if we'll see each other 
again. You've long since ceased to be that babe 
before whom I reined in the plowing bullocks. 
Had it not been for Palamedes' trick 
we two would still be living in one household. 
But maybe he was right; away from me 
you are quite safe from all Oedipal passions, 
and your dreams, my Telemachus, are blameless.

From A Part of Speech by Joseph Brodsky. Translation copyright © 1980 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

Two decommissioned highways cross
and continue toward their borders
with the casual certainty
the dead carry in their sample cases.
Leaning against the wind
I notice tufts of fur in the air
and a driveshaft rising from the sand,
then the horsehair of a violinist's bow
drawn steadily across my neck.



About this poem:
"Something I've always found meaningful and bewitching is a short poem's ability to exist at the crossroads of vastly real and vastly metaphorical landscapes—the universe captured in a fleeting, image-driven shapshot. Charles Simic claims there is a 'religion of the short poem,' and I think he's right. As for the poems I've been working on over the past year, which include 'Opening Gambit,' I've found myself at the altar of Yannis Ritos, James Wright, and John Haines."

Michael McGriff

Copyright © 2013 by Michael McGriff. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 15, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Sharp as an arrow Orpheus
Points his music downward.
Hell is there
At the bottom of the seacliff.
Heal
Nothing by this music.
Eurydice
Is a frigate bird or a rock or some seaweed.
Hail nothing
The infernal
Is a slippering wetness out at the horizon.
Hell is this:
The lack of anything but the eternal to look at
The expansiveness of salt
The lack of any bed but one’s
Music to sleep in.

From A Book of Music by Jack Spicer. As printed in The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer from Wesleyan University Press, 2008. Used by permission.

Orpheus can never look back at the real woman trailing behind him out of hell, the woman that anybody could see with ordinary eyes. Orpheus must keep his eyes firmly fixed on the imaginal Eurydice before him, towards whom he has struggled all his life. She is not imaginary, not at all, but realer than any mere apparency, than any momentary act of seeing. He must move always towards that perfect image of his wife, and so sustain himself and his song. If ever he turns back, that is, regresses into seeing his wife as an ordinary woman, she is lost. And he is lost.

We crawl through the tall grass and idle light,

our chests against the earth so we can hear the river


underground. Our backs carry rotting wood and books

that hold no stories of damnation or miracles.


One day as we listen for water, we find a beekeeper—

one eye pearled by a cataract, the other cut out by his own hand


so he might know both types of blindness. When we stand

in front of him, he says we are prisms breaking light into color—


our right shoulders red, our left hips a wavering indigo.

His apiaries are empty except for dead queens, and he sits


on his quiet boxes humming as he licks honey from the bodies

of drones. He tells me he smelled my southern skin for miles,


says the graveyard is full of dead prophets. To you, he presents

his arms, tattooed with songs slave catchers whistle


as they unleash the dogs. He lets you see the burns on his chest

from the time he set fire to boats and pushed them out to sea.


You ask why no one believes in madness anymore,

and he tells you stars need a darkness to see themselves by.


When you ask about resurrection, he says, How can you doubt?

and shows you a deer licking salt from a lynched man's palm.

From Our Lady of the Ruins: Poems by Traci Brimhall. Copyright © 2012 by Traci Brimhall. Reprinted with permission of W. W. Norton & Co. All rights reserved.

In the first version, Persephone
is taken from her mother
and the goddess of the earth
punishes the earth—this is
consistent with what we know of human behavior,

that human beings take profound satisfaction
in doing harm, particularly
unconscious harm:

we may call this
negative creation.

Persephone's initial
sojourn in hell continues to be
pawed over by scholars who dispute
the sensations of the virgin:

did she cooperate in her rape,
or was she drugged, violated against her will,
as happens so often now to modern girls.

As is well known, the return of the beloved
does not correct
the loss of the beloved: Persephone

returns home
stained with red juice like
a character in Hawthorne—

I am not certain I will
keep this word: is earth
"home" to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably,
in the bed of the god? Is she
at home nowhere? Is she
a born wanderer, in other words
an existential
replica of her own mother, less
hamstrung by ideas of causality?

You are allowed to like
no one, you know. The characters
are not people.
They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict.

Three parts: just as the soul is divided,
ego, superego, id. Likewise

the three levels of the known world,
a kind of diagram that separates
heaven from earth from hell.

You must ask yourself:
where is it snowing?

White of forgetfulness,
of desecration—

It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says

Persephone is having sex in hell.
Unlike the rest of us, she doesn't know
what winter is, only that
she is what causes it.

She is lying in the bed of Hades.
What is in her mind?
Is she afraid? Has something
blotted out the idea
of mind?

She does know the earth
is run by mothers, this much
is certain. She also knows
she is not what is called
a girl any longer. Regarding
incarceration, she believes

she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter.

The terrible reunions in store for her
will take up the rest of her life.
When the passion for expiation
is chronic, fierce, you do not choose
the way you live. You do not live;
you are not allowed to die.

You drift between earth and death
which seem, finally,
strangely alike. Scholars tell us

that there is no point in knowing what you want
when the forces contending over you
could kill you.

White of forgetfulness,
white of safety—

They say
there is a rift in the human soul
which was not constructed to belong
entirely to life. Earth

asks us to deny this rift, a threat
disguised as suggestion—
as we have seen
in the tale of Persephone
which should be read

as an argument between the mother and the lover—
the daughter is just meat.

When death confronts her, she has never seen
the meadow without the daisies.
Suddenly she is no longer
singing her maidenly songs
about her mother's
beauty and fecundity. Where
the rift is, the break is.

Song of the earth,
song of the mythic vision of eternal life—

My soul
shattered with the strain
of trying to belong to earth—

What will you do,
when it is your turn in the field with the god?

"Persephone the Wanderer" from Averno by Louise Glück. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED!
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

From Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara. Copyright © 1964 by Frank O'Hara. Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books. All rights reserved.

A Black came in after dinner and sat with the ladies...Lord M...calls her Dido, which I suppose is all the name she has. He knows he has been reproached for showing fondness for her...

        From The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson,
        August 1779

Dido moves quickly—
as from the Latin anime.

Breath or soul.
Beside her, the generations-free kin,

a biscuit figurine in pink.
Dido standing in irony—

the lowest are taller here—
Elizabeth should provide

an unkind contrast: pretty, blond,
pale in uncovered places—

but no.
The painter worships the quickened other.

Dido, his coquette of deep-dish
dimples, his careless, bright love.

Forget history.
She's a teenager.

We know what that means.
Cocky, stupid about reality.

No thought of babies—
feathers in her arms.

She might wave them, clearing
dead mothers from the air—

and surely, she's special—
her uncle dressed her with care,

hid her from triangles and seas
outside this walled garden.

Let her be.
Please.

No Dying Mythical Queen
weaving a vivid, troubled skin—

but Dido, full of girlhood,
and Elizabeth reaching

a hand. Behave, cousin,
she begs.

Don't run away from me.

Dido was the great-niece of William Murray, First Earl of Mansfield; as Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, he is responsible for the Somersett ruling (1772), which essentially outlawed slavery in England, though not in the colonies.

Copyright © 2011 by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. Used with permission of the author.

Turn to yon vale beneath, whose tangled shade
Excludes the blazing torch of noon-day light,
Where sportive Fawns, and dimpled Loves invite,
The bow'r of Pleasure opens to the glade:
Lull'd by soft flutes, on leaves of violets laid,
There witching beauty greets the ravish'd sight,
More gentle than the arbitress of night
In all her silv'ry panoply array'd!
The birds breathe bliss! light zephyrs kiss the ground,
Stealing the hyacinth's divine perfume;
While from the pellucid fountains glitt'ring round,
small tinkling rills bid rival flow'rets bloom!
HERE, laughing Cupids bathe the bosom's wound;
THERE, tyrant passion finds a glorious tomb!

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 23, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive. This poem is in the public domain.

I'm no moaning bluet, mountable
linnet, mumbling nun. I'm
tangible, I'm gin. Able to molt
in toto, to limn. I'm blame and angle, I'm
lumbago, an oblate mug gone notable,
not glum. I'm a tabu tuba mogul, I'm motile,
I'm nimble. No gab ennui, no bagel bun-boat: I'm one
big mega-ton bolt able to bail
men out. Gluten iamb. Male bong unit.
I'm a genial bum, mental obi, genital
montage. I'm Agent Limbo, my blunt bio
an amulet, an enigma. Omit elan. Omit bingo.
Alien mangle, I'm glib lingo. Untangle me,
tangelo. But I'm no angel.

Copyright © 2013 by Paisley Rekdal. Used with permission of the author.

place where i gulp,

a tiny back room

somewhere distant and indistinct,

or a small house off a backroad &

cozy with little turkish rugs, crayon-colored furniture and things,

dollhouse-size, but alive,

flexing wide like a spongy sea creature

or lung. forming want.

[    ]

i try plying it with different tastes—tea, chorizo, avocado, nuts—

but nothing doing;

no more than opening and shutting windows

stalls the mount to heat frenzy and returning chill;

the gape stays still,

shadowed like Humphrey Bogart in a trenchcoat on some staircase

(stirring for a cigarette)

Copyright © 2010 by Shira Dentz. Used with permission of the author.

   "From my grave to wander I am forc'd
      Still to seek The God's long-sever'd link,
Still to love the bridegroom I have lost,
      And the life-blood of his heart to drink;
         When his race is run,
         I must hasten on,
   And the young must 'neath my vengeance sink.

   "Beauteous youth! no longer mayst thou live;
      Here must shrivel up thy form so fair;
Did not tI to thee a token give.
      Taking in return this lock of hair?
         View it to thy sorrow!
         Grey thou'lt be to-morrow,
      Only to grow brown again when there."

   "Mother, to this final prayer give ear!
      Let a funeral pile be straightway dress'd;
Open then my cell so sad and drear,
      That the flames may give the lovers rest!
         When ascends the fire
         From the glowing pyre,
      To the gods of old we'll hasten, blest."

This poem is in the public domain.

 

Gabriel Conroy reflects on his wife’s former lover, Michael Furey.

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

This poem is in the public domain.

Control has been candied and exchanged
So many times it feels like the night 
Of the day, a troubled ride through 
A beginning whose motor announces
It's still the mild guardian 
Of a human bird we don't yet hear.
She needs no protection nor exists
Except as a set of performances,
Notes mistaken for an identity
In sequence, much as we take quiet
Sounds to be an index of their distance
From the only place that matters.
This is not description but paraphrase
The voice does as contradictions, 
New but old, certainly uncertain
About the decision to wear white
Though it's long after Labor Day.
In fact it's that other day in September
Never fully over inside the strings,
And this isn't time, more like the world
Premiere of an anticipation 
Of an accompaniment that isn't 
Paraphrase so much as the last
Chance at exhausted debut.

Copyright © 2012 by Geoffrey G. O'Brien. Used with permission of the author.

. . . Unquenched, unquenchable,
Around, within, thy heart shall dwell;
Nor ear can hear nor tongue can tell
The tortures of that inward hell!
But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
But one that for thy crime must fall,
The youngest, most beloved of all,
Shall bless thee with a father's name —
That word shall wrap thy heart in flame!
Yet must thou end thy task, and mark
Her cheek's last tinge, her eye's last spark,
And the last glassy glance must view
Which freezes o'er its lifeless blue;
Then with unhallowed hand shalt tear
The tresses of her yellow hair,
Of which in life a lock when shorn
Affection's fondest pledge was worn,
But now is borne away by thee,
Memorial of thine agony!

This poem is in the public domain.

The weeping of the guitar
begins.
The goblets of dawn
are smashed.
The weeping of the guitar
begins.
Useless
to silence it.
Impossible
to silence it.
It weeps monotonously
as water weeps
as the wind weeps
over snowfields.
Impossible
to silence it.
It weeps for distant
things.
Hot southern sands
yearning for white camellias.
Weeps arrow without target
evening without morning
and the first dead bird
on the branch.
Oh, guitar!
Heart mortally wounded
by five swords.

From Selected Verse by Federico García Lorca. Translations copyright © 2002 by Cola Franzen. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved.

Part I

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
   Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

He'd a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
   His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
   Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord's daughter,
   The landlord's red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

"One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
   Watch for me by moonlight,
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."

He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair i' the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
   (Oh, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the West.

Part II

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon,
When the road was a gipsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
   Marching—marching—
King George's men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
   And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
"Now keep good watch!" and they kissed her.
   She heard the doomed man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
   Watch for me by moonlight;
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
   Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it; She strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
   Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love's refrain.

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
   Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
   Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o'er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew gray to hear
How Bess, the landlord's daughter,
   The landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
   Down like a dog on the highway, And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

* * * *

And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
   Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
   Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

This poem is in the public domain.

Luxurious man, to bring his vice in use,
Did after him the world seduce,
And from the fields the flowers and plants allure,
Where nature was most plain and pure.
He first enclosed within the garden's square
A dead and standing pool of air,
And a more luscious earth for them did knead,
Which stupefied them while it fed.
The pink grew then as double as his mind:
The nutriment did change the kind.
With strange perfumes he did the roses taint,
And flowers themselves were taught to paint.
The tulip, white, did for complexion seek,
And learned to interline its cheek;
Its onion root they then so high did hold,
That one was for a meadow sold.
Another world was searched, through oceans new,
To find the marvel of Peru.
And yet these rarities might be allowed,
To man, that sovereign thing, and proud,
Had he not dealt between the bark and tree,
Forbidden mixtures there to see.
No plant now knew the stock from which it came;
He grafts upon the wild the tame,
That the uncertain and adulterate fruit
Might put the palate in dispute.
His green seraglio has its eunuchs too,
Lest any tyrant him outdo,
And in the cherry he does nature vex,
To procreate without a sex.
'Tis all enforced—the fountain and the grot—
While the sweet fields do lie forgot,
Where willing nature does to all dispense
A wild and fragrant innocence,
And fauns and fairies do the meadows till
More by their presence than their skill.
Their statues, polished by some ancient hand,
May to adorn the gardens stand,
But how so'er the figures do excel,
The gods themselves with us do dwell.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 31, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive. This poem is in the public domain.


The soul of swift-soled Achilles hearing me
Praise his son, silvered, and then was gone,
His long strides causing him to blend, light-bent,
Into the shining, maize meadow cloudbank						
Shadowed by that one solitary tree 
It takes sixteen years for light, let alone
A soul, to cross.
		 The other dead, who thrived
Though they had died, rejoiced at seeing me
And sang, one by one, to me; and I in 
Turn said back to one after the other
That the song that soul sang was a blessing
And that I had never heard anything
Like it; which was true, but also, I must
Admit, they bored me to tears, tears that their
Surprisingly still finite knowledge took
As tears of pure joy from hearing them sing.

Only Ajax Telamoniades
Kept away, arms crossed, refusing to speak,
Dim-starred and disappearing into his rage.
All because of a simple spar of words,
A mere speech, and winning Achilles’ armor.
Athena above and those men at the ships
Decided that, not me, although it’s true 
He never stood chance. But by custom
Should have been given the matchless metal. 
How I wish I hadn’t won that contest.
How the ground closed over his head for it.
What a fool I can be. Ajax. Who knew
No equal in action but for the one
Man who surpassed him, just-fled Achilles,
So capable of happiness despite
All that happened because he washed up here,
Heaven: this implausible place for us.

Strange that Ajax is also in Heaven
Despite ending his legendary life.
In the end he’s won, but he doesn’t seem
To understand that he’s won. Poor Ajax.
Like always, I thought I had winning words
And so I said to him with unreturned gaze:
“Son of great Telamon, mighty Ajax, 
War tower, shake free of your anger.
No one else is to blame but Zeus, and look,
He is no longer here, friend. Paradise
Has found you and given you an eternal
Roof under the one tree of High Heaven.
Zeus treated us so terribly, and you,
Whom he should have loved like his strongest son,
You worst of all.
   But that is history
Now. Come, my strong brother, lord and deserved
Winner of all Achilles wore and was,
Come, be with us here; let me hear the light
Of Heaven in your voice; and let me know,
Because I love you, how you (of all men!)
Ended up in the keen of this endless berm.”
But Ajax, gift-eyed, said nothing to me
And took his seat under the rowan tree.

Copyright © 2013 by Rowan Ricardo Phillips. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on December 19, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Orpheus

When I wrote of the women in their dances and 
      wildness, it was a mask,
on their mountain, god-hunting, singing, in orgy,
it was a mask; when I wrote of the god,
fragmented, exiled from himself, his life, the love gone
      down with song,
it was myself, split open, unable to speak, in exile from
      myself.
	  
There is no mountain, there is no god, there is memory
of my torn life, myself split open in sleep, the rescued
      child
beside me among the doctors, and a word
of rescue from the great eyes.

No more masks! No more mythologies!

Now, for the first time, the god lifts his hand,
the fragments join in me with their own music.

From Muriel Rukeyser: Selected Poems by Muriel Rukeyser. Published by Library of America (American Poets Project). Copyright © 2004 by William Rukeyser. Reprinted by permission of William Rukeyser. All rights reserved.

for Marilyn Hacker

There were the books, and wolves were in the books.
They roamed between words. They snarled and loped
through stories with bedraggled wolfish looks

at which the hackles rose and the world stopped
in horror, and she read them because she knew
the pleasures of reading, the page being rapt

with the magic of the fierce, and she could do
the talk of such creatures. So one day
when teacher asked if there were any who

could read, she rose as if the task were play,
to claim the story where she felt at home.
The tale was Riding Hood, the wolf was grey.

The fierceness was the wood where grey wolves roam.
She read it round, she read it through and through
It was as if the wolf were hers to comb,

like those bedraggled creatures in the zoo
that, trapped behind the bars, would snarl and stride
as you’d expect a page or wolf to do.

 

About this poem:
“‘The Wolf Reader’ came out of a formal exercise in which people told each other a dream and this dream set me off. I do write a good deal in formal patterns and the poem was written fast as my poems often are—I need momentum—then I fiddled with it for a while without changing anything much except punctuation and an odd word. The outside world, the inner world, and other people's inner worlds constitute a continuum like a river in which any imagination may fish. Rivers are not to be owned. This river brought up a wolf and a book.”

George Szirtes

 

Copyright © 2013 by George Szirtes. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on March 9, 2013. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

1

Something startles me where I thought I was safest,
I withdraw from the still woods I loved,
I will not go now on the pastures to walk,
I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my lover the sea,
I will not touch my flesh to the earth as to other flesh to renew me.

O how can it be that the ground itself does not sicken?
How can you be alive you growths of spring?
How can you furnish health you blood of herbs, roots, orchards, grain?
Are they not continually putting distemper'd corpses within you?
Is not every continent work'd over and over with sour dead?

Where have you disposed of their carcasses?
Those drunkards and gluttons of so many generations?
Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and meat?
I do not see any of it upon you to-day, or perhaps I am deceiv'd,
I will run a furrow with my plough, I will press my spade through the sod and turn it up underneath,
I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.

2

Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite has once form'd part of a sick person—yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the garden,
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves,
The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mulberry-tree,
The he-birds carol mornings and evenings while the she-birds sit on their nests,
The young of poultry break through the hatch'd eggs,
The new-born of animals appear, the calf is dropt from the cow, the colt from the mare,
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato's dark green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk, the lilacs bloom in the dooryards,
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata of sour dead.

What chemistry!
That the winds are really not infectious,
That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash of the sea which is so amorous after me,
That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over with its tongues,
That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have deposited themselves in it,
That all is clean forever and forever,
That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,
That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,
That the fruits of the apple-orchard and the orange-orchard, that melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will
   none of them poison me,
That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease,
Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once a catching disease.

Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas'd corpses,
It distills such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 13, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive. This poem is in the public domain.

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known—cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all,—
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
   This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle,
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
   There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me,
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

This poem is in the public domain.

Help me to cross the bardo's dangerous pathway...(Tibetan Book of the Dead)

John Cage was a new or short or longer pause suppliant. John Cage was a friend to brains of the two sexes, to Buddha, to eat him, destroy him. John Cage as John Cage was, sat down. Rest not, Tetrapod! John Cage was for us as poetics arrived in pure perfection and turned and never stammered to listen, John Cage was metabolic twin listener. Staunch, dark doom that never rides. But he does. John Cage was a founder. Surprise is never barren, all over the timing world. John Cage was a culture, gaps in the cave to know Neanderthal. Hours with him, a boon. So much of a story. Fathomless medium of laughter across a dangerous pathway. He was a mosoipholon domos. And under the sun, a test of. Texts enlarge the world. Equilibrium he is good at. Pianos will teach your own intervention. Pianos will reside in silence, pianos will loom and close. John Cage was metabolism for up his mind as he called it, strength, and a case for lines. Deference no solemnity. And pluck the cactus needles. Out of reach? John Cage was and never. Then drew it out. The sign would be that, the sign would be as John Cage was and drawn. Down on the tatami. For his purpose was not purpose to be uttered outside or inside but under the sun. A cool chamber, then. Find it. Sources of comfort more abstract. John Cage was visiting. Help, a perfect abstract to a visitor all over the timing world. To have been there, you had to have been there and then not but flying. Utterly inside. Utterly outside. Are you listening? John Cage sat and then turned. Every domestic duty could be heard in and out of Japan. Everything at this season goes out so light. Did she have time? She hadn't a single minute. This is what she thought as him. Twelve thoughts before breakfast. One a companion ever so expected a moment of pride. Two a found text. Three, story where she guessed the next moment. Four more kinds of him to have thought. Five to call Merce in the bardo over here. Six does one have greater a right to scandal than one is prepared to pay? Seven a form of communication influenced by delay and death. But held in archive. It was eight and the thought had a glamor of receiving itself. Nine, an enumeration. Ten a sharper calculation. If eleven "doesn't he tell you things?" ever stop? Twelve is not a limit, eyes during the wonderful dinner ambitious of variety.

Copyright © 2012 by Anne Waldman. Used with permission of the author.

I know now the beloved
Has no fixed abode,
That each body 
She inhabits
Is only a temporary
Home.
             That she
Casts off forms
As eagerly
As lovers shed clothes.

I accept that he's
Just passing through
That flower
Or that stone.

And yet, it makes 
Me dizzy—
The way he hides
In the flow of it,
The way she shifts
In fluid motions,
Becoming other things.

I want to stop him— 
If only briefly.
I want to lure her
To the surface
And catch her
In this net of words.

Copyright © 2012 by Gregory Orr. Used with permission of the author.

The battle’s slow and sinuous,
a stormy fire on the hilltops.
The enemy’s spears and darts
have decimated,
at such a snail’s pace,
our once-protecting parents,
that, almost unawares, we’re caught,
wordless, shield-less, in the blazing
tumult of the frontline.
Up till now, Virgil’s hand.
From this day forward,
the world will be utterly different:
we’ll combat the fire
totally on our own.
Guideless, spurred by a secret
quest for common sense,
perhaps, in the long run, we’ll realize
the ramparts,
the enemy, the war itself,
are trumped-up shadows
of a fire that’s merely
light and ash;
we’ll realize: purgatory
and paradise are located
within us.

Copyright © 2013 by Cyrus Cassells. Used with permission of the translator. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 22, 2013. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

The words are a beautiful music.
The words bounce like in water.

Water music,
loud in the clearing

off the boats,
birds, leaves.

They look for a place
to sit and eat—

no meaning,
no point.

From The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975. Copyright © 1983 by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published in Words (Scribner, 1967).

I call to you as a prism to its oracle denies any prescriptive allure. What is a high sound when a sparrow takes it. When breath snatches. A latch catches. Dear diary. I am home now and affect a suitable disregard.

On a screen everyone is very particular. Does this explain.

It is this bird we want, not that one. This one not that one. Myth is the difference between birds.

Is this a letter for us to open. It is. Red yellow blue green and violet. Pressed between as petals in a bound volume for their proper keeping. Repeat, as necessary. A gift expresses the meek constituency of a recollected pleasure.

Who is happier when blind or blinded. Who says happy now.

From Archicembalo by G. C. Waldrep. Copyright © 2009 by G. C. Waldrep. Used by permission of Tupelo Press. All rights reserved.

Reality cons me as it spur(n)s me.
This is the road to eternal
Consanguinity, eloping with
Hope and leaving me to pick
Up the proverbial bag.
But that's the argument for.

Copyright © 2013 by Charles Bernstein. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on June 25, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

in his wide wide palm the reigns loose as a foundering
pulse the sky gone
the color of the dying too
and the night kneels
on the throat of the morning
the turkey is clocking and
the night is a preservationist
the morning is a revisionist and
the child is erasing her skin
with a toe thick school eraser for
the moon is the idea of the bone in theoretical x-ray
the clenched jaws of the stars
the doctor’s hunched under
run thick cold sweat thoughts of
the metals of air war asleep
in the father of the father of boom
the crow birds sketch the sky
fumble up a funnel up the sky yes
they try and tie a first bowtie up the sky
as life this life is a soap bubble popped by a pin ha ha
the horses the noises of going ha
sound permits energy mm
of thinking sound outside
the head if
the sound of bye bye but with
then beauty and sadness
rap goat horns on a mountain
man goats boom boom
the only occasion of living finally is love
sounding motion something
other than silence takes the mind
thinking of love
writing is going
poems are bye bye
but take me with
this one composed no clapped to the tune of
wild rivers of wind fire leather coining
demitasses in zee demure aspen trees
yes the liver meat noses of those planet stars
liver lichen oh sis
the stick cage the night is
and the doctor breaking it for the people
and hitching
isis i am not to build this worn house of smoke anymore

Copyright @ 2014 by Abraham Smith. Used with permission of the author.

Outside on Fremont Ave, black
snow and no such thing as a
white wig or a lovestruck violet
who sings his heart out. My lungs
ached, huge with breath and the harsh
sweetness of strange words. Veilchen,
Mädchenmy brother spoke them
to show how my tongue was a gate
that could open secrets. He pressed
keys partway, to draw softest sounds              
from the upright, and what he loved
I loved. That was my whole faith then.

Copyright © 2015 by Joan Larkin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 16, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

               I

The hard sand breaks,
And the grains of it
Are clear as wine.

Far off over the leagues of it,
The wind,
Playing on the wide shore,
Piles little ridges,
And the great waves
Break over it.

But more than the many-foamed ways
Of the sea,
I know him
Of the triple path-ways,
Hermes,
Who awaiteth.

Dubious,
Facing three ways,
Welcoming wayfarers,
He whom the sea-orchard
Shelters from the west,
From the east
Weathers sea-wind;
Fronts the great dunes.

Wind rushes
Over the dunes,
And the coarse, salt-crusted grass
Answers.

Heu,
It whips round my ankles!

               II

Small is
This white stream,
Flowing below ground
From the poplar-shaded hill,
But the water is sweet.

Apples on the small trees
Are hard,
Too small,
Too late ripened
By a desperate sun
That struggles through sea-mist.

The boughs of the trees
Are twisted
By many bafflings;
Twisted are
The small-leafed boughs.
But the shadow of them
Is not the shadow of the mast head
Nor of the torn sails.

Hermes, Hermes,
The great sea foamed,
Gnashed its teeth about me;
But you have waited,
Where sea-grass tangles with
Shore-grass.
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

A young man learns to shoot
& dies in the mud
an ocean away from home,
a rifle in his fingers
& the sky dripping
from his heart. Next to him
a friend watches
his final breath slip
ragged into the ditch,
a thing the friend will carry
back to America—
wound, souvenir,
backstory. He’ll teach 
literature to young people
for 40 years. He’ll coach
his daughters’ softball teams. 
Root for Red Wings
& Lions & Tigers. Dance
well. Love generously. 
He’ll be quick with a joke
& firm with handshakes.
He’ll rarely talk
about the war. If asked
he’ll tell you instead
his favorite story:
Odysseus escaping
from the Cyclops
with a bad pun & good wine
& a sharp stick.
It’s about buying time
& making do, he’ll say. 
It’s about doing what it takes 
to get home, & you see 
he has been talking 
about the war all along.
We all want the same thing
from this world:
Call me nobody. Let me live.

Copyright © 2019 by Amorak Huey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.