Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:
"If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately."
Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. "Help,"
said the flight agent. "Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this."
I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.
"Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?" The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, "No, we're fine, you'll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let's call him."
We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to
her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.
And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two
little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—
by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.
Naomi Shihab Nye, "Gate A-4" from Honeybee. Copyright © 2008 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with permission.
To a Fish
You strange, astonished-looking, angle-faced,
Dreary-mouthed, gaping wretches of the sea,
Gulping salt-water everlastingly,
Cold-blooded, though with red your blood be graced,
And mute, though dwellers in the roaring waste;
And you, all shapes beside, that fishy be,—
Some round, some flat, some long, all devilry,
Legless, unloving, infamously chaste:—
O scaly, slippery, wet, swift, staring wights,
What is't ye do? What life lead? eh, dull goggles?
How do ye vary your vile days and nights?
How pass your Sundays ? Are ye still but joggles
In ceaseless wash? Still nought but gapes, and bites,
And drinks, and stares, diversified with boggles?
A Fish Answers
Amazing monster! that, for aught I know,
With the first sight of thee didst make our race
For ever stare! O flat and shocking face,
Grimly divided from the breast below!
Thou that on dry land horribly dost go
With a split body and most ridiculous pace
Prong after prong, disgracer of all grace,
Long-useless-finn'd, haired, upright, unwet, slow!
O breather of unbreathable, sword-sharp air,
How canst exist? How bear thyself, thou dry
And dreary sloth? What particle canst share
Of the only blessed life, the watery?
I sometimes see of ye an actual pair
Go by! linked fin by fin! most odiously.
The Fish Turns Into A Man, And Then Into A Spirit, And Again Speaks
Indulge thy smiling scorn, if smiling still,
O man! and loathe, but with a sort of love;
For difference must itself by difference prove,
And, in sweet clang, the spheres with music fill.
One of the spirits am I, that at their will
Live in whate'er has life—fish, eagle, dove—
No hate, no pride, beneath nought, nor above,
A visiter of the rounds of God's sweet skill.
Man's life is warm, glad, sad, 'twixt loves and graves,
Boundless in hope, honoured with pangs austere,
Heaven-gazing; and his angel-wings he craves:—
The fish is swift, small-needing, vague yet clear,
A cold, sweet, silver life, wrapped in round waves,
Quickened with touches of transporting fear.
|About this poem:|
"As the transition from the ludicrous to the grave, in these verses, might otherwise appear too violent, the reader will permit me to explain how they arose. The first sonnet was suggested by a friend's laughing at a description I was giving him of the general aspect of fish (in which, by the way, if anybody is curious, let him get acquainted with them in Mr. Yarrell's excellent work on "British Fishes," now in course of publication); the second sonnet, being a lover of fair play, I thought but a just retort to be allowed to those fellow-creatures of ours, who so differ with us in eyeballs and opinions; and the third, not liking to leave a quarrel unsettled, and having a tendency to push a speculation as far as it will go, especially into those calm and heavenward regions from which we always return the better, if we calmly enter them, naturally became as serious as the peace of mind is, with which all speculations conclude that have harmony and lovingness for their real object. The fish, in his retort, speaks too knowingly of his human banterer, for a fish; but it will be seen, that a Spirit animates him for the purpose."
And the just man trailed God's shining agent, over a black mountain, in his giant track, while a restless voice kept harrying his woman: "It's not too late, you can still look back at the red towers of your native Sodom, the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed, at the empty windows set in the tall house where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed." A single glance: a sudden dart of pain stitching her eyes before she made a sound . . . Her body flaked into transparent salt, and her swift legs rooted to the ground. Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem too insignificant for our concern? Yet in my heart I never will deny her, who suffered death because she chose to turn.
From Poems of Akhmatova, by Anna Akhmatova and translated by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward. Published by Little, Brown & Co. © 1973 by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward. Granted by permission of Darhansoff & Verrill Literary Agency. All rights reserved.
Maru Mori brought me
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft
I slipped my feet
as though into
with threads of
my feet were
two fish made
two long sharks
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
in this way
for the first time
my feet seemed to me
like two decrepit
of that woven
of those glowing
the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere
as learned men
the mad impulse
to put them
into a golden
and each day give them
and pieces of pink melon.
in the jungle who hand
over the very rare
to the spit
and eat it
I stretched out
and pulled on
and then my shoes.
of my ode is this:
beauty is twice
and what is good is doubly
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool
"Ode to My Socks" from Neruda & Vallejo: Selected Poems, by Pablo Neruda and translated by Robert Bly (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993). Used with permission of Robert Bly.
The first chainsaw I owned was years ago, an old yellow McCulloch that wouldn't start. Bo Bremmer give it to me that was my friend, though I've had enemies couldn't of done no worse. I took it to Ward's over to Morrisville, and no doubt they tinkered it as best they could, but it still wouldn't start. One time later I took it down to the last bolt and gasket and put it together again, hoping somehow I'd do something accidental-like that would make it go, and then I yanked on it 450 times, as I figured afterwards, and give myself a bursitis in the elbow that went five years even after Doc Arrowsmith shot it full of cortisone and near killed me when he hit a nerve dead on. Old Stan wanted that saw, wanted it bad. Figured I was a greenhorn that didn't know nothing and he could fix it. Well, I was, you could say, being only forty at the time, but a fair hand at tinkering. "Stan," I said, "you're a neighbor. I like you. I wouldn't sell that thing to nobody, except maybe Vice-President Nixon." But Stan persisted. He always did. One time we was loafing and gabbing in his front dooryard, and he spied that saw in the back of my pickup. He run quick inside, then come out and stuck a double sawbuck in my shirt pocket, and he grabbed that saw and lugged it off. Next day, when I drove past, I seen he had it snugged down tight with a tow-chain on the bed of his old Dodge Powerwagon, and he was yanking on it with both hands. Two or three days after, I asked him, "How you getting along with that McCulloch, Stan?" "Well," he says, "I tooken it down to scrap, and I buried it in three separate places yonder on the upper side of the potato piece. You can't be too careful," he says, "when you're disposing of a hex." The next saw I had was a godawful ancient Homelite that I give Dry Dryden thirty bucks for, temperamental as a ram too, but I liked it. It used to remind me of Dry and how he'd clap that saw a couple times with the flat of his double-blade axe to make it go and how he honed the chain with a worn-down file stuck in an old baseball. I worked that saw for years. I put up forty-five run them days each summer and fall to keep my stoves het through the winter. I couldn't now. It'd kill me. Of course they got these here modern Swedish saws now that can take all the worry out of it. What's the good of that? Takes all the fun out too, don't it? Why, I reckon. I mind when Gilles Boivin snagged an old sap spout buried in a chunk of maple and it tore up his mouth so bad he couldn't play "Tea for Two" on his cornet in the town band no more, and then when Toby Fox was holding a beech limb that Rob Bowen was bucking up and the saw skidded crossways and nipped off one of Toby's fingers. Ain't that more like it? Makes you know you're living. But mostly they wan't dangerous, and the only thing they broke was your back. Old Stan, he was a buller and a jammer in his time, no two ways about that, but he never sawed himself. Stan had the sugar all his life, and he wan't always too careful about his diet and the injections. He lost all the feeling in his legs from the knees down. One time he started up his Powerwagon out in the barn, and his foot slipped off the clutch, and she jumped forwards right through the wall and into the manure pit. He just set there, swearing like you could of heard it in St. Johnsbury, till his wife come out and said, "Stan, what's got into you?" "Missus," he says "ain't nothing got into me. Can't you see? It's me that's got into this here pile of shit." Not much later they took away one of his legs, and six months after that they took the other and left him setting in his old chair with a tank of oxygen to sip at whenever he felt himself sinking. I remember that chair. Stan reupholstered it with an old bearskin that must of come down from his great-great- grandfather and had grit in it left over from the Civil War and a bullet-hole as big as a yawning cat. Stan latched the pieces together with rawhide, cross fashion, but the stitches was always breaking and coming undone. About then I quit stopping by to see old Stan, and I don't feel so good about that neither. But my mother was having her strokes then. I figured one person coming apart was as much as a man can stand. Then Stan was taken away to the nursing home, and then he died. I always remember how he planted them pieces of spooked McCulloch up above the potatoes. One time I went up and dug, and I took the old sprocket, all pitted and et away, and set it on the windowsill right there next to the butter mold. But I'm damned if I know why.
Hayden Carruth's "Regarding Chainsaws," from Toward the Distant Islands: New & Selected Poems (2006) is used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.
I thought it was the neighbor’s cat back
to clean the clock of the fledgling robins low
in their nest stuck in the dense hedge by the house
but what came was much stranger, a liquidity
moving all muscle and bristle. A groundhog
slippery and waddle thieving my tomatoes still
green in the morning’s shade. I watched her
munch and stand on her haunches taking such
pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed
delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth,
as if demanding that I kneel to the trap of coiled
spikes used in warfare and fencing. Instead,
I watch the groundhog closer and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.
Copyright © 2020 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
From Homage to Clio by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1960 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
is the sound of me thinking
in a language stolen from my
ancestors. I can’t tell you who the
first slave in my family was, but we
are the last. Descendants
of the sun. Rye skinned
and vibrant, wailing to
a sailing tomb. We twist
creoled tongues. Make English
a song worth singing. You erase
our history and call it freedom.
Take our flesh and call it fashion.
Swallow nations and call it
humanity. We so savage
we let you live.
I can’t tell you who the first slave
in my family was, but we remember
the bodies. Our bodies remember.
We are their favorite melody. Beat
into bucket. Broken
into cardboard covered
into Harlem. The getting over
never begins, but there
is always the get down. Our DNA
sheet music humming
at the bottom
of the ocean.
Copyright © 2021 by Roya Marsh. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 15, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
No one believes in you
like I do. I sit you down on the table
& they overlook you for
fried chicken & grits,
crab cakes & hush puppies,
black-eyed peas & succotash
& sweet potatoes & watermelon.
Your stringy, slippery texture
reminds them of the creature
from the movie Aliens.
But I tell my friends if they don’t like you
they are cheating themselves;
you were brought from Africa
as seeds, hidden in the ears and hair
Nothing was wasted in our kitchens.
We took the unused & the throwaways
& made feasts;
we taught our children
how to survive,
So I write this poem
in praise of okra
& the cooks who understood
how to make something out of nothing.
Your fibrous skin
melts in my mouth—
green flecks of flavor,
still tough, unbruised,
part of the fabric of earth.
From Underlife (CavanKerry Press, 2009). Copyright © 2009 by January Gill O’Neil. Used with the permission of the author.
"I have no name: I am but two days old." What shall I call thee? "I happy am, Joy is my name." Sweet joy befall thee! Pretty joy! Sweet joy, but two days old. Sweet Joy I call thee: Thou dost smile, I sing the while; Sweet joy befall thee!
This poem is in the public domain.
Things will be different.
No one will lose their sight,
their hearing, their gallbladder.
It will be all Catskills with brand
new wrap-around verandas.
The idea of Hitler will not
have vibrated yet.
While back here,
they are still cleaning out
pockets of wrinkled
Nazis hiding in Argentina.
But in the next galaxy,
certain planets will have true
blue skies and drinking water.
From In the Next Galaxy by Ruth Stone. Copyright © 2002 by Ruth Stone. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.
Putting up new curtains, other windows intrude. As though it is that first winter in Cambridge when you and I had just moved in. Now cold borscht alone in a bare kitchen. What does it mean if I say this years later? Listen, last night I am on a crying jag with my landlord, Mr. Tempesta. I sneaked in two cats. He screams, "No pets! No pets!" I become my Aunt Virginia, proud but weak in the head. I remember Anna Magnani. I throw a few books. I shout. He wipes his eyes and opens his hands. OK OK keep the dirty animals but no nails in the walls. We cry together. I am so nervous, he says. I want to dig you up and say, look, it's like the time, remember, when I ran into our living room naked to get rid of that fire inspector. See what you miss by being dead?
Reprinted from What Love Comes To: New & Selected Poems with the permission of Copper Canyon Press. Copyright © 1987 by Ruth Stone. All rights reserved.
(To F. S.)
I loved my friend.
He went away from me.
There’s nothing more to say.
The poem ends,
Soft as it began,—
I loved my friend.
From The Weary Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 1926) by Langston Hughes. This poem is in the public domain.
The little sparrows
About the pavement
With sharp voices
Over those things
That interest them.
But we who are wiser
Shut ourselves in
On either hand
And no one knows
Whether we think good
The old man who goes about
Gathering dog lime
Walks in the gutter
Without looking up
And his tread
Is more majestic than
That of the Episcopal minister
Approaching the pulpit
Of a Sunday.
Astonish me beyond words.
This poem is in the public domain.