Days come and go:
this bird by minute, hour by leaf,
a calendar of loss.
I shift through woods, sifting
the air for August cadences
and walk beyond the boundaries I’ve kept
for months, past loose stone walls,
the fences breaking into sticks,
the poems always spilling into prose.
A low sweet meadow full of stars
beyond the margin
fills with big-boned, steaming mares.
The skies above are bruised like fruit,
their juices running,
black-veined marble of regret.
The road gusts sideways:
sassafras and rue.
A warbler warbles.
Did I wake the night through?
Walk through sleeping?
Shuffle for another way to mourn?
Dawn pinks up.
In sparking grass I find beginnings.
I was cradled here.
I gabbled and I spun.
And gradually the many men inside me
found their names,
acquired definition, points of view.
There was much to say,
not all of it untrue.
As the faithful seasons fell away,
I followed till my thoughts
inhabited a tree of thorns
that grew in muck of my own making.
Yet I was lifted and laid bare.
I hung there weakly: crossed, crossed-out.
At first I didn’t know
a voice inside me speaking low.
I stumbled in my way.
But now these hours that can’t be counted
find me fresh, this ordinary time
like kingdom come.
In clarity of dawn,
I fill my lungs, a summer-full of breaths.
The great field holds the wind, and sways.
From New and Collected Poems: 1975–2015 by Jay Parini (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.
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.