so much depends
on the authority
of a reality
to guide me
in a logic
to live comfortably
yet desire differently.
Copyright © 2015 by Douglas Piccinnini. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 19, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.
It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.
At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?
Now it is almost over.
Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.
It does this not in forgiveness—
between you, there is nothing to forgive—
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.
Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.
It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.
Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.
Originally published in After (HarperCollins, 2006); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow:
You are not wrong who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand--
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep--while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
This poem is in the public domain.
Sometimes “I” is supposed to hold what is not there until it is.
Then what comes apart the closer you are to it.
This makes the first person a symbol for something.
The pronoun barely holding the person together.
Someone claimed we should use our skin as wallpaper knowing we couldn’t win.
You said “I” has so much power; it’s insane.
And you would look past me, all gloved up, in a big coat, with fancy fur around the collar, and record a self saying, you should be scared, the first person can’t pull you together.
Shit, you are reading minds, but did you try?
Tried rhyme, tried truth, tried epistolary untruth, tried and tried.
You really did. Everyone understood you to be suffering and still everyone thought you thought you were the sun—never mind our unlikeness, you too have heard the noise in your voice.
Anyway, sit down. Sit here alongside.
Exactly why we survive and can look back with furrowed brow is beyond me.
It is not something to know.
Your ill-spirited, cooked, hell on Main Street, nobody’s here, broken-down, first person could be one of many definitions of being to pass on.
The past is a life sentence, a blunt instrument aimed at tomorrow.
Drag that first person out of the social death of history, then we’re kin.
Kin calling out the past like a foreigner with a newly minted “fuck you.”
Maybe you don’t agree.
Maybe you don’t think so.
Maybe you are right, you don’t really have anything to confess.
Why are you standing?
Listen, you, I was creating a life study out of a monumental first person, a Brahmin first person.
If you need to feel that way—still you are in here and here is nowhere.
Join me down here in nowhere.
Don’t lean against the wallpaper; sit down and pull together.
Yours is a strange dream, a strange reverie.
No, it’s a strange beach; each body is a strange beach, and if you let in the excess emotion you will recall the Atlantic Ocean breaking on our heads.
From Citizen (Graywolf Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Claudia Rankine. Used with permission of the author.
You come to fetch me from my work to-night
When supper's on the table, and we'll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree.
(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea;)
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,
Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.
This poem is in the public domain.
In a skiff on a sunrisen lake we are watchers. Swimming aimlessly is luxury just as walking loudly up a shallow stream is. As we lean over the deep well, we whisper. Friends at hearths are drawn to the one warm air; strangers meet on beaches drawn to the one wet sea. What wd it be to be water, one body of water (what water is is another mystery) (We are water divided.) It wd be a self without walls, with surface tension, specific gravity a local exchange between bedrock and cloud of falling and rising, rising to fall, falling to rise.
Excerpted from Springing by Marie Ponsot. Copyright © 2002 by Marie Ponsot. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without permission in writing from the publisher.
for Frank O’Hara
Frank, we have become an urban species
at this moment many millions of humans are
standing on some corner waiting like me
for a signal permitting us to go,
a signal depicting a small pale pedestrian
to be followed by a sea-green light
we do not use this opportunity
to tune in to eternity
we bounce upon our toes impatiently
It is a Thursday morning, Frank, and I feel
rather acutely alive but I need a thing of beauty
or a theory of beauty to reconcile me
to the lumps of garbage I cannot love enclosed
in these tough shiny black plastic bags
heaped along the curb of 97th Street, my street—
like a hideous reminder of the fate we all expect
letting the bulky slimy truth of waste
attack our aesthetic sense and joie de vivre
reliably every Thursday. Let me scan the handsome amber
columned and corniced dwellings
reflected in rear windows of parked cars, let me wish
luck to their hives of intimacies, people
in kitchens finishing a morning coffee
saying see you later to the ones they live with
Let me raise my eyes to the blue veil adrift
between and above the artifice of buildings
and at last I am slipping through a flaw in time
where the string of white headlights approaching, the string
of red taillights departing, seem as if
they carry some kind of message
perhaps the message is that one block west
Riverside Park extends its length
at the edge of Manhattan like the downy arm
of a tender, amusing, beautiful lover,
and after that is the deathless river
but waiting for the light feels like forever
From Waiting for the Light, by Alicia Ostriker. Copyright © 2017. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,
I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands
Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners, troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you,
Your true soul and body appear before me,
They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work, farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking, suffering, dying.
Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem,
I whisper with my lips close to your ear,
I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.
O I have been dilatory and dumb,
I should have made my way straight to you long ago,
I should have blabb'd nothing but you, I should have chanted nothing but you.
I will leave all and come and make the hymns of you,
None has understood you, but I understand you,
None has done justice to you, you have not done justice to yourself
None but has found you imperfect, I only find no imperfection in you,
None but would subordinate you, I only am he who will never consent to subordinate you,
I only am he who places over you no master, owner, better, God, beyond what waits intrinsically in yourself.
Painters have painted their swarming groups and the centre-figure of all,
From the head of the centre-figure spreading a nimbus of gold-color'd light,
But I paint myriads of heads, but paint no head without its nimbus of gold-color'd light,
From my hand from the brain of every man and woman it streams, effulgently flowing forever.
O I could sing such grandeurs and glories about you!
You have not known what you are, you have slumber'd upon yourself all your life,
Your eyelids have been the same as closed most of the time,
What you have done returns already in mockeries,
Your thrift, knowledge, prayers, if they do not return in mockeries, what is their return?)
The mockeries are not you,
Underneath them and within them I see you lurk,
I pursue you where none else has pursued you,
Silence, the desk, the flippant expression, the night, the accustom'd routine, if these conceal you from others or from yourself, they do not conceal you from me,
The shaved face, the unsteady eye, the impure complexion, if these balk others they do not balk me,
The pert apparel, the deform'd attitude, drunkenness, greed, premature death, all these I part aside
There is no endowment in man or woman that is not tallied in you,
There is no virtue, no beauty in man or woman, but as good is in you,
No pluck, no endurance in others, but as good is in you,
No pleasure waiting for others, but an equal pleasure waits for you.
As for me, I give nothing to any one except I give the like carefully to you,
I sing the songs of the glory of none, not God, sooner than I sing the songs of the glory of you.
Whoever you are! claim your own at any hazard!
These shows of the East and West are tame compared to you,
These immense meadows, these interminable rivers, you are immense and interminable as they,
These furies, elements, storms, motions of Nature, throes of apparent dissolution, you are he or she who is master or mistress over them,
Master or mistress in your own right over Nature, elements, pain, passion, dissolution.
The hopples fall from your ankles, you find an unfailing sufficiency,
Old or young, male or female, rude, low, rejected by the rest, whatever you are promulges itself,
Through birth, life, death, burial, the means are provided, nothing is scanted,
Through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui, what you are picks its way.
This poem is in the public domain.
Leisure, thou goddess of a bygone age,
When hours were long and days sufficed to hold
Wide-eyed delights and pleasures uncontrolled
By shortening moments, when no gaunt presage
Of undone duties, modern heritage,
Haunted our happy minds; must thou withhold
Thy presence from this over-busy world,
And bearing silence with thee disengage
Our twined fortunes? Deeps of unhewn woods
Alone can cherish thee, alone possess
Thy quiet, teeming vigor. This our crime:
Not to have worshipped, marred by alien moods
That sole condition of all loveliness,
The dreaming lapse of slow, unmeasured time.
This poem is in the public domain.