I knew not who had wrought with skill so fine
What I beheld; nor by what laws of art
He had created life and love and heart
On canvas, from mere color, curve and line.
Silent I stood and made no move or sign;
Not with the crowd, but reverently apart;
Nor felt the power my rooted limbs to start,
But mutely gazed upon that face divine.
And over me the sense of beauty fell,
As music over a raptured listener to
The deep-voiced organ breathing out a hymn;
Or as on one who kneels, his beads to tell,
There falls the aureate glory filtered through
The windows in some old cathedral dim.
you devour it
and then, then
good as it was
for Phil Levine, RIP
They are writing about you Phil—you know
good stuff—the prizes Detroit and that
poem where you said in past lives you
were a wild sun-crested fox being chased
by “ladies and gentlemen on horseback”—
you said you would wake up with the poem
ready that it slipped untangled from a dream
all you had to do was sit up and write
the stage was a poem too—even though
most of us were too prepared you
preferred to joke before we went on
before the poetry light hit us on the face
it did not matter to you—you just carved
chiseled punctured rotated jitterbugged
and whirred past a distant gate
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.
I went down to
mingle my breath
with the breath
of the cherry blossoms.
There were photographers:
Mothers arranging their
gnarled old trees;
a couple, hugging,
asks a passerby
to snap them
so that their love
will always be caught
between two friendships:
ours & the friendship
of the cherry trees.
why can't my poems
be as beautiful?
A young woman in a fur-trimmed
coat sets a card table
with linens, candles,
a picnic basket & wine.
A father tips
a boy's wheelchair back
so he can gaze
up at a branched
All around us
you have an ancient beauty.
you have an ancient beauty.
You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.
Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:
head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches
in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand
dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only
what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock
where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:
the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return
Tiny keyboard bearing the massive reverie of the past—
press one button, we’re carried away on a country road,
marching with saints, leaving the Red River Valley...
here is every holiday you hated, every hard time,
each steamy summer wish. You closed your eyes
in the wooden stairwell, leaning your head against the wall,
knowing a bigger world loomed. It’s still out there,
and it’s tucked in this keyboard too,
now we are an organ, now we are an oboe,
now we are young or ancient,
now we are smelling wallpaper in the house
our grandfather sold with every cabinet,
table and doily included,
but we are still adrift, floating,
thrum-full of longing layers of sound.
The Black Rhinoceros at Brookfield Zoo
Eating sweet potatoes, carrots, and bread
Looked like my uncle’s extended family
Crowding around the table at Thanksgiving.
Mrs. Movehill suddenly started crying
On the second-grade bus, which often stalled,
And the next day we had a substitute teacher
Who said that rhinos have poor eyesight
And swivel their tube-shaped ears in all directions
So they can hear their enemies approaching, lions
And people who carve their horns into daggers
Or mash them into pain relievers.
My parents bought my shoes on discount
At Wolinsky & Levy, and so whenever I raised
Either foot my sole said “Damaged.”
That’s why I kept my feet close to the floor.
When Mrs. Movehill returned, she wore dark
Dresses and told us that the Black Rhinoceros
Is the same muddy color as the White Rhinoceros,
Which is strange, if you think about it, and we did.
What does it feel like to have two horns
Tilting up on a huge head, Mr. Rhinoceros?
You lumber around in your skin of armor
Like an exiled general or a grounded unicorn.
Everyone knows that a pachyderm in peril
Would still rather live in the open savannah.
We can’t tell if you are trumpeting forward
Or backward in your scrubby house.
Not less because in purple I descended
The western day through what you called
The loneliest air, not less was I myself.
What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?
Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard.
I was myself the compass of that sea:
I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.
I buried my father in the sky. Since then, the birds clean and comb him every morning and pull the blanket up to his chin every night. I buried my father underground. Since then, my ladders only climb down, and all the earth has become a house whose rooms are the hours, whose doors stand open at evening, receiving guest after guest. Sometimes I see past them to the tables spread for a wedding feast. I buried my father in my heart. Now he grows in me, my strange son, my little root who won’t drink milk, little pale foot sunk in unheard-of night, little clock spring newly wet in the fire, little grape, parent to the future wine, a son the fruit of his own son, little father I ransom with my life.
Ginkgo, cottonwood, pin oak, sweet gum, tulip tree:
our emotions resemble leaves and alive
to their shapes we are nourished.
Have you felt the expanse and contours of grief
along the edges of a big Norway maple?
Have you winced at the orange flare
searing the curves of a curling dogwood?
I have seen from the air logged islands,
each with a network of branching gravel roads,
and felt a moment of pure anger, aspen gold.
I have seen sandhill cranes moving in an open field,
a single white whooping crane in the flock.
And I have traveled along the contours
of leaves that have no name. Here
where the air is wet and the light is cool,
I feel what others are thinking and do not speak,
I know pleasure in the veins of a sugar maple,
I am living at the edge of a new leaf.
Napoleon's hat is an obvious choice I guess to list as a famous hat, but that's not the hat I have in mind. That was his hat for show. I am thinking of his private bathing cap, which in all honesty wasn't much different than the one any jerk might buy at a corner drugstore now, except for two minor eccentricities. The first one isn't even funny: Simply it was a white rubber bathing cap, but too small. Napoleon led such a hectic life ever since his childhood, even farther back than that, that he never had a chance to buy a new bathing cap and still as a grown-up--well, he didn't really grow that much, but his head did: He was a pinhead at birth, and he used, until his death really, the same little tiny bathing cap that he was born in, and this meant that later it was very painful to him and gave him many headaches, as if he needed more. So, he had to vaseline his skull like crazy to even get the thing on. The second eccentricity was that it was a tricorn bathing cap. Scholars like to make a lot out of this, and it would be easy to do. My theory is simple-minded to be sure: that beneath his public head there was another head and it was a pyramid or something.
translated by Eugene Richie
for Grace Schulman
Lounging in a beach chair
I am moved by the meekness of the ocean,
the distances it has traveled
to unfold in frothing ringlets by my feet.
At high tide, rippling iridescent serpents
form under the aquamarine skin.
The sky is a luminous scarlet arch;
the spring sunset, a perfect cliché.
In the warm glow of the setting sun,
the images are serene, gentle, stripped of all haste—
the hush of this supple silence
makes me close my eyes,
and the old white swan
I saw yesterday in the twilight appears.
I see it crane its neck toward the sky
opening its beak ever so briefly
to puncture my heart
with its desolate song.
In the gathering darkness
I hear the desperate fanning of its ruffled feathers
as it sails toward the magenta shroud of its fate.
para Grace Schulman
Recostado en una silla playera
me conmueve la humildad del océano,
las distancias que ha recorrido
para desdoblarse en rizos espumosos a mis pies.
En la pleamar, iridiscentes serpientes ondulantes
se forman bajo la epidermis aguamarina.
El cielo es una resplandeciente bóveda escarlata;
el atardecer primaveral, un clisé perfecto.
En el caluroso resplandor del sol poniente,
las imágenes son serenas, apacibles, despojadas de toda urgencia.
La paz de este dócil sosiego
me induce a cerrar los ojos,
y el viejo cisne blanco
que contemplé ayer en el crepúsculo aparece.
Lo veo lanzar su cuello hacia el cielo,
abriendo su pico brevemente
para agujerear mi corazón
con un canto desolado.
Y, en la oscuridad circundante,
escucho el desesperado abanicar de sus plumas despeinadas
cuando zarpa hacia la mortaja purpúrea de su suerte.
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
Well, a great many things have been said
in the oven of hours. We have not been
shaken out of the magnolias. Today was another
hard day. And tomorrow will be harder. Well,
that sounds like our gong. But we’ll have
the boy’s birthday and we will have
music and cake. Well, I will think only
good thoughts and go up and talk to the rock.
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover’s tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won’t be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate—and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, “Yes.”
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?