I never claimed night fathered me. that was my dead brother talking in his sleep. I keep him under my pillow, a dear wish that colors my laughing and crying. I never said the wind, remembering nothing, leaves so many rooms unaccounted for, continual farewell must ransom the unmistakable fragrance our human days afford. It was my brother, little candle in the pulpit, reading out loud to all of earth from the book of night. He died too young to learn his name. Now he answers to Vacant Boat, Burning Wing, My Black Petal. Ask him who his mother is. He’ll declare the birds have eaten the path home, but each of us joins night’s ongoing story wherever night overtakes him, the heart astonished to find belonging and thanks answering thanks. Ask if he’s hungry or thirsty, he’ll say he’s the bread come to pass and draw you a map to the twelve secret hips of honey. Does someone want to know the way to spring? He’ll remind you the flower was never meant to survive the fruit’s triumph. He says an apple’s most secret cargo is the enduring odor of a human childhood, our mother’s linen pressed and stored, our father’s voice walking through the rooms. He says he’s forgiven our sister for playing dead and making him cry those afternoons we were left alone in the house. And when clocks frighten me with their long hair, and when I spy the wind’s numerous hands in the orchard unfastening first the petals from the buds, then the perfume from the flesh, my dead brother ministers to me. His voice weighs nothing but the far years between stars in their massive dying, and I grow quiet hearing how many of both of our tomorrows lie waiting inside it to be born.
From Book of My Nights (BOA, 2001) by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2001. Appears with permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.
Between the computer, a pencil, and a typewriter half my day passes. One day it will be half a century. I live in strange cities and sometimes talk with strangers about matters strange to me. I listen to music a lot: Bach, Mahler, Chopin, Shostakovich. I see three elements in music: weakness, power, and pain. The fourth has no name. I read poets, living and dead, who teach me tenacity, faith, and pride. I try to understand the great philosophers--but usually catch just scraps of their precious thoughts. I like to take long walks on Paris streets and watch my fellow creatures, quickened by envy, anger, desire; to trace a silver coin passing from hand to hand as it slowly loses its round shape (the emperor's profile is erased). Beside me trees expressing nothing but a green, indifferent perfection. Black birds pace the fields, waiting patiently like Spanish widows. I'm no longer young, but someone else is always older. I like deep sleep, when I cease to exist, and fast bike rides on country roads when poplars and houses dissolve like cumuli on sunny days. Sometimes in museums the paintings speak to me and irony suddenly vanishes. I love gazing at my wife's face. Every Sunday I call my father. Every other week I meet with friends, thus proving my fidelity. My country freed itself from one evil. I wish another liberation would follow. Could I help in this? I don't know. I'm truly not a child of the ocean, as Antonio Machado wrote about himself, but a child of air, mint and cello and not all the ways of the high world cross paths with the life that—so far— belongs to me.
From Mysticism for Beginners by Adam Zagajewski, translated by Claire Cavanaugh. Translation copyright © 1997 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
For one brief golden moment rare like wine, The gracious city swept across the line; Oblivious of the color of my skin, Forgetting that I was an alien guest, She bent to me, my hostile heart to win, Caught me in passion to her pillowy breast; The great, proud city, seized with a strange love, Bowed down for one flame hour my pride to prove.
Published in 1922. This poem is in the public domain.
Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list'ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.
From Saint Peter Relates an Incident by James Weldon Johnson. Copyright © 1917, 1921, 1935 James Weldon Johnson, renewed 1963 by Grace Nail Johnson. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.