To grow old is to lose everything. Aging, everybody knows it. Even when we are young, we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads when a grandfather dies. Then we row for years on the midsummer pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage, that began without harm, scatters into debris on the shore, and a friend from school drops cold on a rocky strand. If a new love carries us past middle age, our wife will die at her strongest and most beautiful. New women come and go. All go. The pretty lover who announces that she is temporary is temporary. The bold woman, middle-aged against our old age, sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand. Another friend of decades estranges himself in words that pollute thirty years. Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge and affirm that it is fitting and delicious to lose everything.
Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 2002 by Donald Hall. All rights reserved.
He glides in on his single wing, after the signs go up. After
the truck leaves with the bunkbeds, grill, broken hall mirror.
After Scout is dropped off at the shelter. After the last look,
on the dying lawn. In the backyard, where the empty pool
stands open; he pops an ollie over the cracked patterns of tile:
tidal waves in neat squares. He kneels, checking angle against
depth. He lifts off where the board once leapt and leapt: cannon-
balls, swans: endless summer. He hurtles downward, kickturning,
sparks grinding hard on gunnite. Round the bend: the kidney,
the heart. The stone path where once glowed tiki torches at
the kingdom’s ukelele gate. He rockets out of the dead lots each
day, past swingsets and shut-off sprinklers, his board struck up
from whirlwind. Nobody’s home to the ownerless: he turns
inside their names, never minds ghosts, nothing in his wake.
I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.
I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.
And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!
This poem is in the public domain.
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme; As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came. Í say móre: the just man justices; Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces; Acts in God's eye what in God’s eye he is— Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
This poem is in the public domain.
A double line of meditators sits
on mats, each one a human triangle.
Evacuate your mind of clutter now.
I do my best, squeezing the static and
the agony into a straight flat line,
but soon it soars and dips until my mind’s
activity looks (you can take the girl...)
uncannily like the Manhattan skyline.
Observe your thoughts, then gently let them go.
I’m watching them all right, unruly dots
I not only can’t part from but can’t help
transforming into restless bodies -- they’re
no sooner being thought than sprouting limbs,
no longer motionless but striding proudly,
beautiful mental jukeboxes that play
their litanies of joy and woe each day
beneath the shadow of enormous buildings.
Desires are your jailers; set them free
and roam the hills, smiling archaically.
It’s not a pretty picture, me amid
high alpine regions in my urban black,
huffing and puffing in the mountain air
and saying to myself, I’m trying but
it’s hopeless; though the tortures of the damned
make waking difficult, they are my tortures;
I want them raucous and I want them near,
like howling pets I nonetheless adore
and holler adamant instructions to—
sprint, mad ambition! scavenge, hopeless love
that begs requital!—on our evening stroll
down Broadway and up West End Avenue.
Copyright © Rachel Wetzsteon. From Sakura Park (Persea, 2006). Used with permission of the author.
after Epictetus To gaze upon the fatal without commiserating gloom: what every friend should be— not one who rends her coat of doom nor one who lets her ankle rankle nor her dogged love to the hounds. Be the cat in catastrophe who survives eight more dives. Though in the clutch of damage a dame must age, in the crazy-quilt of guilt it was never your fault. In the company of morose always pull out the rose.
I watched the arctic landscape from above and thought of nothing, lovely nothing. I observed white canopies of clouds, vast expanses where no wolf tracks could be found. I thought about you and about the emptiness that can promise one thing only: plenitude— and that a certain sort of snowy wasteland bursts from a surfeit of happiness. As we drew closer to our landing, the vulnerable earth emerged among the clouds, comic gardens forgotten by their owners, pale grass plagued by winter and the wind. I put my book down and for an instant felt a perfect balance between waking and dreams. But when the plane touched concrete, then assiduously circled the airport's labryinth, I once again knew nothing. The darkness of daily wanderings resumed, the day's sweet darkness, the darkness of the voice that counts and measures, remembers and forgets.
From Eternal Enemies by Adam Zagajewski. Copyright © 2008 by Adam Zagajewski. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. All rights reserved.
I learn to knit so I can knit covers for things, easy things at first covers for my hands covers for my feet for my head and neck soon I am making covers for friends as well I am adept at covering I cover handles on doors I cover the tops of pots, themselves covers, covered with knit yarn, I cover things for my daughter, small things, I make a cover for her eye and a cover for the eye of her doll I make a cover for her doll covering the whole thing except for the eye, for which I have already made a cover, I cover her dollhouse in great patches I connect the patches I am on a roll, I learn to knit in my sleep with the aid of a sleep knitting machine I cover my bed over and over again at night I become more and more adept until I can knit covers for myself as I walk, slow business to be sure but faster and faster for I find I need always to be covered everywhere I go so I knit the cover and trail it behind me to cover where I've been.
Copyright © 2012 by Kathryn Cowles. Used with permission of the author.
A parrot of irritation sits on my shoulder, pecks at my head, ruffling his feathers in my ear. He repeats everything I say, like a child trying to irritate the parent. Too much to do today: the dracena that’s outgrown its pot, a mountain of bills to pay and nothing in the house to eat. Too many clothes need washing and the dog needs his shots. It just goes on and on, I say to myself, no one around, and catch myself saying it, a ball hit so straight to your glove you’d have to be blind not to catch it. And of course I hope it does go on and on forever, the little pain, the little pleasure, the sun a blood orange in the sky, the sky parrot blue and the day unfolding like a bird slowly spreading its wings, though I know, saying it, that it won’t.
From The Book of Ten, published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2011 by Susan Wood. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
You're the shadow shadow lurking in me and the lunatic light waiting in that shadow. Ghostwriter of my half-life, intention's ambush I can't prepare for, ruthless whammy you have me ogling a blinding sun, my right eye naked even with both lids closed— glowering sun, unerring navigator around this darkened room, you're my laser probe, I'm your unwilling wavelength, I can never transcend your modus operandi, I've given up trying to outsmart you, and the new thinking says I didn't invent you— whatever you were to me I've outgrown, I don't need you, but you're tenacity embodied, tightening my skull, my temple, like plastic wrap. Many times, I've traveled to a dry climate that wouldn't pander to you, as if the great map of America's deserts held the key to a pain-free future, but you were an encroaching line in the sand, then you were the sand. We've spent the best years of my life intertwined: wherever I land you entrap me in the unraveled faces of panhandlers, their features my features— you, little death I won't stop for, little death luring me across your footbridge to the other side, oblivion's anodyne. Soon—I can't know where or when— we'll dance ache to ache again on my life's fragments, one part abandoned, the other abundance—
Copyright © 2011 by Gail Mazur. Used with permission of the author.
Sometimes she's Confucian-- resolute in privation. . . . Each day, more immobile, hip not mending, legs swollen; still she carries her grief with a hard steadiness. Twelve years uncompanioned, there's no point longing for what can't return. This morning, she tells me, she found a robin hunched in the damp dirt by the blossoming white azalea. Still there at noon-- she went out in the yard with her 4-pronged metal cane-- it appeared to be dying. Tonight, when she looked again, the bird had disappeared and in its place, under the bush, was a tiny egg-- "Beautiful robin's-egg blue"-- she carried carefully indoors. "Are you keeping it warm?" I ask--what am I thinking?-- And she: "Gail, I don't want a bird, I want a blue egg."
From They Can't Take That Away from Me by Gail Mazur. Copyright © 2000 by Gail Mazur. Reprinted with permission by The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.
You came in a dream, yesterday —The first day we met you showed me your dark workroom off the kitchen, your books, your notebooks. Reading our last, knowing-last letters —the years of our friendship reading our poems to each other, I would start breathing again. Yesterday, in the afternoon, more than a year since you died, some words came into the air. I looked away a second, and they were gone, six lines, just passing through. for Adrienne Rich
Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods. Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt. But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down but the angel flies up again taking us with her. The summer mornings begin inch by inch while we sleep, and walk with us later as long-legged beauty through the dirty streets. It is no surprise that danger and suffering surround us. What astonishes is the singing. We know the horses are there in the dark meadow because we can smell them, can hear them breathing. Our spirit persists like a man struggling through the frozen valley who suddenly smells flowers and realizes the snow is melting out of sight on top of the mountain, knows that spring has begun.
From Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert. Copyright © 2012 by Jack Gilbert. Reprinted with permission of Alfred A. Knopf. All rights reserved.
You were the white field when you handed me a blank sheet of paper and said you’d worked so hard all day and this was the best field you could manage. And when I didn’t understand, you turned it over and showed me how the field had bled through, and then you took out your notebook and said how each time you attempted to make something else, it turned out to be the same field. You worried that everyone you knew was becoming the field and you couldn’t help them because you were the one making them into fields in the first place. It’s not what you meant to happen. You handed me a box of notebooks and left. I hung the field all over the house. Now, when people come over, they think they’re lost and when I tell them they’re not, they say they’re beginning to feel like the field and it’s hard because they know they shouldn’t but they do and then they start to grow whiter and whiter and then they disappear. With everyone turning into fields, it’s hard to know anything. With everyone turning into fields, it’s hard to be abstract. And since I’m mostly alone, I just keep running my hand over the field, waiting.
Copyright © 2011 by Jennifer Denrow. Reprinted from California with the permission of Four Way Books. The title of this poem is taken from Samuel Beckett.
1 Every October it becomes important, no, necessary to see the leaves turning, to be surrounded by leaves turning; it's not just the symbolism, to confront in the death of the year your death, one blazing farewell appearance, though the irony isn't lost on you that nature is most seductive when it's about to die, flaunting the dazzle of its incipient exit, an ending that at least so far the effects of human progress (pollution, acid rain) have not yet frightened you enough to make you believe is real; that is, you know this ending is a deception because of course nature is always renewing itself— the trees don't die, they just pretend, go out in style, and return in style: a new style. 2 Is it deliberate how far they make you go especially if you live in the city to get far enough away from home to see not just trees but only trees? The boring highways, roadsigns, high speeds, 10-axle trucks passing you as if they were in an even greater hurry than you to look at leaves: so you drive in terror for literal hours and it looks like rain, or snow, but it's probably just clouds (too cloudy to see any color?) and you wonder, given the poverty of your memory, which road had the most color last year, but it doesn't matter since you're probably too late anyway, or too early— whichever road you take will be the wrong one and you've probably come all this way for nothing. 3 You'll be driving along depressed when suddenly a cloud will move and the sun will muscle through and ignite the hills. It may not last. Probably won't last. But for a moment the whole world comes to. Wakes up. Proves it lives. It lives— red, yellow, orange, brown, russet, ocher, vermilion, gold. Flame and rust. Flame and rust, the permutations of burning. You're on fire. Your eyes are on fire. It won't last, you don't want it to last. You can't stand any more. But you don't want it to stop. It's what you've come for. It's what you'll come back for. It won't stay with you, but you'll remember that it felt like nothing else you've felt or something you've felt that also didn't last.
Copyright © 1992 by Lloyd Schwartz. From Goodnight, Gracie (The University of Chicago Press, 1992). Appears courtesy of the author.
I bathe my television in total attention I give it my corneas
I give it my eardrums I give it my longing
In return I get pictures of girls fighting and men flying
and women in big houses with tight faces blotting down tears
with tiny knuckles Sometimes my mother calls
and I don't answer Sometimes a siren sings past the window
and summer air pushes in dripping with the scent
of human sweat But what do I care I've given my skin
to the TV I've given it my tastes In return it gives me so many
different sounds to fill the silence where the secrets
of my life flash by like ad space for the coming season
For once I fought back, answering Oh yes, someday when a restless muse asserted This golden age needs treatment on the page. It was the strangest lesson— all that ink to make me think shadows were real, this silence when one true heart so manifestly was. Time passed. Themes amassed; I scoffed at amber, basked in oxygen. Now in this little cabin where no sightings slake my cravings and my pen gets back its need to conjure, on the ingots I have stored, oh pine, opine.
From Silver Roses by Rachel Wetzsteon. Copyright © 2010 by Rachel Wetzsteon. Used by permission of Persea Books.
I found myself
a many-roofed building in moonlight.
me as simply as moths might.
Feelings traversed me as fish.
I heard myself thinking,
It isn't the piano, it isn't the ears.
Then heard, too soon, the ordinary furnace,
the usual footsteps above me.
Washed my face again with hot water,
as I did when I was a child.
Originally published in The Beauty (Knopf, 2015); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
Everyone knows that the moon started out as a renegade fragment of the sun, a solar flare that fled that hellish furnace and congealed into a flat frozen pond suspended between the planets. But did you know that anger began as music, played too often and too loudly by drunken performers at weddings and garden parties? Or that turtles evolved from knuckles, ice from tears, and darkness from misunderstanding? As for the dominant thesis regarding the origin of love, I abstain from comment, nor will I allow myself to address the idea that dance began as a kiss, that happiness was an accidental import from Spain, that the ancient game of jump-the-fire gave rise to politics. But I will confess that I began as an astronomer—a liking for bright flashes, vast distances, unreachable things, a hand stretched always toward the furthest limit— and that my longing for you has not taken me very far from that original desire to inscribe a comet's orbit around the walls of our city, to gently stroke the surface of the stars.
Copyright © 2011 by Troy Jollimore. Used with permission of the author.
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
This poem is in the public domain.
A curtain bellying like a pregnant cloud, warm white light refracted through a tumbler of peat-smoked scotch— a scorcher of a day at cooling end, with stupendous berries to eat in lieu of supper, the scoffed pint box of blueberries chased by a half of cantaloupe & Maytag blue cheese spread across the remains of last night's baguette— a plural happiness—I feel encouraged for all within range—even the hang-gliding error that sent Jesus spiraling down to earth seems a commitment. Tomorrow we'll go to Alison's wedding, who at age 2 & 3/4 attended our wedding 26 years ago, her blond curls a mystery to be held up & photographed between her mother & father dark-haired Diane & Larry— in the riddle of our recessive genes once in a while something surprising waits for anybody out & about. Like hearing for the first time a blind preacher or waking in a Gros Vent campground south of Jenny Lake, the best happiness is always accidental,—& why not? I was going to say something about boundlessness back there (or was it getting gassed I meant?), but that isn't it exactly either. Tho it is pretty close. Close enough. And real. Real enough, & sure. God it felt good to heat water on a primus stove while yawning and to wash my face in cold Gros Vent & love Michaela.
Copyright © 2011 by David Rivard. Reprinted from Otherwise Elsewhere with the permission of Graywolf Press.
Cold as a slap, this indigo sea, where we clamber on blonde-fringed rocks, where someone's tarted up the fishing shacks with red paint and artful nets. The sun floats like ice in a highball. Condos train their plate-glass gazes on the horizon, amnesiac to past conspiracies of cloud, storms that shook homes and swallowed boats. Just north, a granite wall's etched with the lost— decades of their half-remembered names. Imagine waking always to this spread— each day the ocean swelling to loll at your feet, exotic pet. The galleries glow, ripe with impasto, sunsets we could be bite into: raspberries, marzipan, seafoam like cream. Their artists shoot for the numinous, overlook the jagged and impermanent: barnacles overtaking the dock, clustered mussels, tangled kelp and the steady lament of pebbles tugged senseless from shore.
Copyright © 2011 by April Lindner. Used with permission of the author.
What we're drawn to is proof enough: these pills, other acts of disappearance. I've written a song about a girl who swallowed the blue planets: Kevlar, Caroline, O Beautiful Bomb. So perfectly haplessly cruel the world we've made. Let's meet back here in 5 minutes, you say, you always say. I'll bring the Lite-Brite. I'll bring the hole in my heart, a white star burning. More and more, the rock show. Venus rising is a glass wrecking ball, inside red harbors, red sails.
Copyright © 2011 by Joni Wallace. Reprinted from Blinking Ephemeral Valentine with the permission of Four Way Books.
That linkage of warnings sent a tremor through June as if to prepare October in the hardest apples. One week in late July we held hands through the bars of his hospital bed. Our sleep made a canopy over us and it seemed I heard its durable roaring in the companion sleep of what must have been our Bedouin god, and now when the poppy lets go I know it is to lay bare his thickly seeded black coach at the pinnacle of dying. My shaggy ponies heard the shallow snapping of silk but grazed on down the hillside, their prayer flags tearing at the void-what we stared into, its cool flux of blue and white. How just shaking at flies they sprinkled the air with the soft unconscious praise of bells braided into their manes. My life simplified to "for him" and his thinned like an injection wearing off so the real gave way to the more-than-real, each moment's carmine abundance, furl of reddest petals lifted from the stalk and no hint of the black hussar's hat at the center. By then his breathing stopped so gradually I had to brush lips to know an ending. Tasting then that plush of scarlet which is the last of warmth, kissless kiss he would have given. Mine to extend a lover's right past its radius, to give and also most needfully, my gallant hussar, to bend and take.
Copyright © 1992 by Tess Gallagher. Reprinted from Moon Crossing Bridge with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Dust covers the window, but light slips through—
it always does—through dust or cracks or under doors.
Every day at dusk, the sun, through branches,
hits a river's bend & sends silver slivers to the walls.
No one's there to see this. No one.
But it dances there anyway, that light,
& when the wind weaves waves into the water
it's as if lit syllables quivered on the bricks.
Then the sun sinks, swallowed by the dark. In that dark
more dust, always more dust
settles—sighs over everything.
There is no silence there, something always stirs
not far away. Small rags of noise.
Rilke said most people will know only a small corner of their room.
I read this long ago & still don't know how to understand
that word only, do you?
Where are you? I think of you so often
and search for you in every face that comes between me & dust,
me & dusk—first love, torn corner from this life.
The park admits the wind,
the petals lift and scatter
like versions of myself I was on the verge
of becoming; and ten years on
and ten blocks down I still can’t tell
whether this dispersal resembles
a fist unclenching or waving goodbye.
But the petals scatter faster,
seeking the rose, the cigarette vendor,
and at least I’ve got by pumping heart
some rules of conduct: refuse to choose
between turning pages and turning heads
though the stubborn dine alone. Get over
“getting over”: dark clouds don’t fade
but drift with ever deeper colors.
Give up on rooted happiness
(the stolid trees on fire!) and sweet reprieve
(a poor park but my own) will follow.
There is still a chance the empty gazebo
will draw crowds from the greater world.
And meanwhile, meanwhile’s far from nothing:
the humming moment, the rustle of cherry trees.
from Sakura Park by Rachel Wetzsteon. Copyright © 2006. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc. New York.
It's like living in a light bulb, with the leaves
Like filaments and the sky a shell of thin, transparent glass
Enclosing the late heaven of a summer day, a canopy
Of incandescent blue above the dappled sunlight golden on the grass.
I took the train back from Poughkeepsie to New York
And in the Port Authority, there at the Suburban Transit window,
She asked, "Is this the bus to Princeton?"—which it was.
"Do you know Geoffrey Love?" I said I did. She had the blondest hair,
Which fell across her shoulders, and a dress of almost phosphorescent blue.
She liked Ayn Rand. We went down to the Village for a drink,
Where I contrived to miss the last bus to New Jersey, and at 3 a.m. we
Walked around and found a cheap hotel I hadn't enough money for
And fooled around on its dilapidated couch. An early morning bus
(She'd come to see her brother), dinner plans and missed connections
And a message on his door about the Jersey shore. Next day
A summer dormitory room, my roommates gone: "Are you," she asked,
"A hedonist?" I guessed so. Then she had to catch her plane.
Sally—Sally Roche. She called that night from Florida,
And then I never heard from her again. I wonder where she is now,
Who she is now. That was thirty-seven years ago.
And I'm too old to be surprised again. The days are open,
Life conceals no depths, no mysteries, the sky is everywhere,
The leaves are all ablaze with light, the blond light
Of a summer afternoon that made me think again of Sally's hair.
Copyright © 2006 John Koethe.
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking, And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking, I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying. I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife; And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
This poem is in the public domain.
I'm no moaning bluet, mountable
linnet, mumbling nun. I'm
tangible, I'm gin. Able to molt
in toto, to limn. I'm blame and angle, I'm
lumbago, an oblate mug gone notable,
not glum. I'm a tabu tuba mogul, I'm motile,
I'm nimble. No gab ennui, no bagel bun-boat: I'm one
big mega-ton bolt able to bail
men out. Gluten iamb. Male bong unit.
I'm a genial bum, mental obi, genital
montage. I'm Agent Limbo, my blunt bio
an amulet, an enigma. Omit elan. Omit bingo.
Alien mangle, I'm glib lingo. Untangle me,
tangelo. But I'm no angel.
Copyright © 2013 by Paisley Rekdal. Used with permission of the author.
In the small towns along the river nothing happens day after long day. Summer weeks stalled forever, and long marriages always the same. Lives with only emergencies, births, and fishing for excitement. Then a ship comes out of the mist. Or comes around the bend carefully one morning in the rain, past the pines and shrubs. Arrives on a hot fragrant night, grandly, all lit up. Gone two days later, leaving fury in its wake. For Susan Crosby Lawrence Anderson
Copyright © 2010 by Jack Gilbert. Reprinted from The Dance Most of All with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Late August morning I go out to cut
spent and faded hydrangeas—washed
greens, russets, troubled little auras
of sky as if these were the very silks
of Versailles, mottled by rain and ruin
then half-restored, after all this time…
When I come back with my handful
I realize I’ve accidentally locked the door,
and can’t get back into the house.
The dining room window’s easiest;
crawl through beauty bush and spirea,
push aside some errant maples, take down
the wood-framed screen, hoist myself up.
But how, exactly, to clamber across the sill
and the radiator down to the tile?
I try bending one leg in, but I don’t fold
readily; I push myself up so that my waist
rests against the sill, and lean forward,
place my hands on the floor and begin to slide
down into the room, which makes me think
this was what it was like to be born:
awkward, too big for the passageway…
When I give myself
to gravity there I am, inside, no harm,
the dazzling splotchy flowerheads
scattered around me on the floor.
Will leaving the world be the same
—uncertainty as to how to proceed,
some discomfort, and suddenly you’re
—where? I am so involved with this idea
I forget to unlock the door,
so when I go to fetch the mail, I’m locked out
again. Am I at home in this house,
would I prefer to be out here,
where I could be almost anyone?
This time it’s simpler: the window-frame,
the radiator, my descent. Born twice
in one day!
In their silvered jug,
these bruise-blessed flowers:
how hard I had to work to bring them
into this room. When I say spent,
I don’t mean they have no further coin.
If there are lives to come, I think
they might be a littler easier than this one.
We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of racoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within the body.
Copyright © 2001 Jack Gilbert. From The Great Fires: Poems 1982-1992, 2001, Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission.
Sheets boiled with lavender, the hard bed. Handmade eye pillow filled with Great Northerns. Cactus to the ceiling, orange corsages. No embarrassment, a calm that is the opposite of ambition, I think. Mind like a diary unlocked on the dresser, pages lifting in breeze. Like those vivid flowers. Amethyst on a chain: external heart. Heirlooms in a shallow basket I can look at without regret, or regard and weep, kneeling, beside. A water glass, my eyeglasses, arms open in a waiting embrace. Sleeping on my husband's chest, his undershirt dryer-warm, arresting as a cloud in a black-and-white photograph.
From The Children by Paula Bohince. Copyright © 2012 by Paula Bohince. Reprinted with permission of Sarabande Books, Inc. All rights reserved.
I leant upon a coppice gate When Frost was spectre-gray, And Winter's dregs made desolate The weakening eye of day. The tangled bine-stems scored the sky Like strings of broken lyres, And all mankind that haunted nigh Had sought their household fires. The land's sharp features seemed to be The Century's corpse outleant, His crypt the cloudy canopy, The wind his death-lament. The ancient pulse of germ and birth Was shrunken hard and dry, And every spirit upon earth Seemed fervourless as I. At once a voice arose among The bleak twigs overhead In a full-hearted evensong Of joy illimited; An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small, In blast-beruffled plume, Had chosen thus to fling his soul Upon the growing gloom. So little cause for carolings Of such ecstatic sound Was written on terrestrial things Afar or nigh around, That I could think there trembled through His happy good-night air Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew And I was unaware.
This poem is in the public domain.
Was he looking for St. Lucia’s light to touch his face those first days in the official November snow & sleet falling on the granite pose of Lincoln? If he were searching for property lines drawn in the blood, or for a hint of resolve crisscrossing a border, maybe he’d find clues in the taste of breadfruit. I could see him stopped there squinting in crooked light, the haze of Wall Street touching clouds of double consciousness, an eye etched into a sign borrowed from Egypt. If he’s looking for tips on basketball, how to rise up & guard the hoop, he may glean a few theories about war but they aren’t in The Star-Apple Kingdom. If he wants to finally master himself, searching for clues to govern seagulls in salty air, he’ll find henchmen busy with locks & chains in a ghost schooner's nocturnal calm. He’s reading someone who won’t speak of milk & honey, but of looking ahead beyond pillars of salt raised in a dream where fat bulbs split open the earth. The spine of the manifest was broken, leaking deeds, songs & testaments. Justice stood in the shoes of mercy, & doubt was bandaged up & put to bed. Now, he looks as if he wants to eat words, their sweet, intoxicating flavor. Banana leaf & animal, being & nonbeing. In fact, craving wisdom, he bites into memory. The President of the United States of America thumbs the pages slowly, moving from reverie to reverie, learning why one envies the octopus for its ink, how a man’s skin becomes the final page.
Copyright © 2011 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Used with permission of the author.
You are not me, and I am never you except for thirty seconds in a year when ecstasy of coming, laughing at the same time or being cruel to know for certain what the other's feeling charge some recognition. Not often when we talk though. Undressing to the daily logs of this petty boss, that compliment, curling our lips at half-announced ambitions. I tell you this during another night of living next to you without having said what was on our minds, our bodies merely rubbing their fishy smells together. The feelings keep piling up. Will I ever find the time to tell you what is inside these trunks? Maybe it's the fault of our language but dreams are innocent and pictorial. Then let our dreams speak for us side by side, leg over leg, an electroencephalographic kiss flashing blue movies from temple to temple, as we lie gagged in sleep. Sleep on while I am talking I am just arranging the curtains over your naked breasts. Love doesn't look too closely... love looks very closely the shock of beauty you gave me the third rail that runs through our hospitality. When will I follow you over the fence to your tracks?
From At the End of the Day: Selected Poems and an Introductory Essay, copyright © 2009 by Phillip Lopate. Used by permission of Marsh Hawk Press.
I wonder by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not wean’d till then?
But suck’d on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be;
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.
And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone;
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown;
Let us possess one world; each hath one, and is one.
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mix’d equally;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none can slacken, none can die.
This poem is in the public domain.
"BE YOUR OWN MASTER!" says the Vedanta Society sign. Why not?…In the park Some clouds roll over me like Greenland on a map. If I wanted to I could imagine I was flying over The Greenland coast and gazing down at the white fjords. Instead I'm lying on the grass, listening to city sounds. They come to me in three-dimensional form, Like a loaf of Wonder Bread. Baby carriages squeak Near the middle. Cars humming through Central Park, Somewhere near the back of the loaf. What sound would be the end-piece, the round brown sliver? The unzipping of airline bags. Or a glove thwacked By a rookie pitcher who falls apart In the eighth inning. The manager takes the ball silently, Like a man who has eaten a full loaf of bread And has a stomach pain. Don't glamorize silence. There is nothing profound about quiet, it is usually Only the universe holding its stomach. Delmore Schwartz must have been a great talker. They say he put most of his talent into his life But I don't know, I think his prose is pretty great; He made a better storywriter than a poet. I could write a thousand-page biography Propounding that stance, and interview all the old rummy Critics who are powerful now; They would let their hair down about Delmore, And the final crackup. The reason I'm thinking of Delmore Schwartz is that He wrote a poem about city parks. And it wasn't that successful, It went on for about twelve pages, but I admired him For writing a poem with so little point, And so much prosy description. I think he was trying to Eulogize normal middle-class happiness on a Sunday afternoon, And how he felt out of it. But that wouldn't have Taken twelve pages…He was probably being ironic About the people's happiness, and secretly thought They weren't happy. He wrote it about the same time Robert Moses was carving out his parks empire By forcing the Long Island millionaires to give up their privacy So that the middle class could get to the beach. Of course it was also supposed to benefit The poor slum-dwellers, but how many of them Ever made it to Sunken Meadows? Or Jones Beach? What's strange about parks—innocent greenery— Is that no one ever suspected them to ruin New York. Yet what finally gutted the city were the parkways Moses built, slashed through all five boroughs Quiet lower-middle-class neighborhoods bulldozed For cars to get to the picnic grounds faster, Or the Hamptons— A life of paperwork capped by a summer home. But I can't blame them: I'd like a summer home myself! I don't really believe New York is dying, no more than The universe is dying. I have no stake in seeing This poem end pessimistically. I'd like to leave people with a good feeling. Robert Moses, Delmore Schwartz. Two ambitious Jews, like myself. They tried to be their own masters… It's hard to imagine New York going under On a slow summer day like today Without even a loud noise to mark it Like the Empire State Building keeling over And everyone running to the scene of default. The helicopters will be standing by, Ready to take us to Greenland. A special airlift for poetic men of letters, A jumbo Boeing crammed to the teeth, And you can't get in if your name isn't Listed in Poets and Writers Directory. "So long, New York School of Poets!" I'll stay behind, tending the weeds And sleeping in deserted Central Park. Soon I'll be hearing about the Godthaab School: Their seemingly infinite talent for "chatty brilliance," Buddhism, and marathon readings. I'll shake my head and sigh: What are Anne and Michael doing now? How was this year's big Halloween party, Or do they even celebrate Halloween in Greenland? Maybe they're into solstice holidays, like Midsummer Night.
"The Last Slow Days of Summer" from At the End of the Day: Selected Poems and an Introductory Essay, copyright © 2009 by Phillip Lopate. Used by permission of Marsh Hawk Press.
After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.
It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.
The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.
Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence
Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.
Copyright © 2011 by Wallace Stevens. Reprinted from Selected Poems with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
1 They’re happy but don’t know it. They think they’re bored and hate each other. The other has forgotten the hammer and must pound each triangular tent peg with a damp stone that has a smooth underside but no flat plane, and here the earth is granite or friable lichen. The whoosh could be a horsefly, rain, or a powerboat. They make love, and each gasps politely, each feels that fat cloud is me, that drilled acorn was me, but this person holding me is strange, withholding as time itself. 2 At sunset the island lights up: a firefly, a Coleman lamp, a bed of coals. It’s there they will learn to be travelers, there where the flies know they are loud, the hidden spring is aware of being cold. They will get there by the teak rowboat, worn almost to a thought, the gunwale splaying, the strake shipping bilge and drowned lunar moths, the old dog in the prow, watching through cataracts. Beach with me on mica, in the tannin-dark inlet. 3 No, there is nothing here, a wisp of tarred rope, a smashed teal egg, paths that lead to each other, so you might walk to Quarry Cove and find only quartz. But here the night makes its own darkness. Like lake water, or the spine of a moss-green book, our marriage closes over us.
Curious to see caverns, we detoured in Tennessee to ramble through Fat Man's Misery, past a ballroom and gun powder machine till we reached The World's Second Largest Underground Lake— on which my husband had promised a ride in a glass-bottom boat. There, a kid hunched over a hot-rod magazine. Dan, I think his name was, radiant, in clammy, artificial light. I asked Dan, college-break? He nodded inside his hoodie then helped me into the glass-bottom hold. I peered into the milky water and watched the seeded trout swim up for the chum he dumped overboard on our account. He was milky white, himself, from months of cave sitting. I wondered if he'd write a poem on a summer spent underground. Thought to suggest it—how foolish— then wondered if what I really wanted was Dan, as I stepped into his boat, to take my arm and ask me something— at this middle age, probably for a couple coins then give a promise of safe passage as he ferried me to the realm of the dead that I've been thinking about for several years not because of a girlfriend's cancer but because my body is no longer young. I mean, lovely— and that there's no turning back to that water's edge. There's only the couch every afternoon at four o'clock and not wanting to ever move. Not wishing to die exactly— just not wanting to rise because the light feels so pressured. And I can't have that ardent glow reflected back while brushing teeth or fastening a necklace. Now there's this casting around for other stuff— the daughters' secrets—the pathetic urge to write about their secrets— or a crush on Charon. Not an old man as it turns out but a youth, colorless and tired of his i-Pod. No, he's not really of interest to me. And this is my secret: that I wish he were— as with those arms reaching through clouds of cigarette smoke to lead me into reeking dives. I'm past that. And he, Dan, not the poetic Charon— will probably climb out of the caverns into the six o'clock evening sun. Stretch. Change his shirt, eat his mother's meatloaf and head off in a rusted Honda for the Piggly-Wiggly parking lot with a six-pack and a girl, those hand-sized moths flitting in the light as the sheriff chases the kids to another dead end spot— those enormous dusty moths my husband caught for me to hold in my hand because he knows, in the afternoon light after the dank caverns, how fluttery the furry wings will feel. Which is more than melodrama can bear. To have wished for Dan to ask me something? I know the passage is not what you wanted to hear.
From Toxic Flora by Kimiko Hahn. Copyright © 2010 by Kimiko Hahn. Used by permission of W.W. Norton.
In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which
The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.
I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash
And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark
And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,
And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,
It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.
From New and Collected Poems, published by Harcourt Brace, 1988. Copyright © 1969 by Richard Wilbur. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
that men might learn what the world is like at the spot where the sun does not decline in the heavens.
Frost bitten. Snow blind. Hungry. Craving fresh pie and hot toddies, a whole roasted unflippered thing to carve. Craving a bed that had, an hour before entering, been warmed with a stone from the hearth. Always back to Eden—to the time when we knew with certainty that something watched and loved us. That the very air was miraculous and ours. That all we had to do was show up. The sun rolled along the horizon. The light never left them. The air from their warm mouths became diamonds. And they longed for everything they did not have. And they came home and longed again.
From Approaching Ice by Elizabeth Bradfield. Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Bradfield. Used by permission of Persea Books.
A man owns a green parrot with a yellow beak that he carries on his shoulder each day to work. He runs a pet shop and the parrot is his trademark. Each morning the man winds his way from his bus through the square, four or five blocks. There goes the parrot, people say. Then at night, he comes back. The man himself is nondescript—a little overweight, thinning hair of no color at all. It's like the parrot owns the man, not the reverse. Then one day the man dies. He was old. It was bound to happen. At first people feel mildly upset. The butcher thinks he has forgotten a customer who owes him money. The baker thinks he's catching a cold. Soon they get it right—the parrot is gone. Time seems out of sorts, but sets itself straight as people forget. Then years later the fellow who ran the diner wakes from a dream where he saw the parrot flying along all by itself, flapping by in the morning and cruising back home at night. Those were the years of the man's marriage, the start of his family, the years when the muddle of his life began to work itself out; and it's as if the parrot were at the root of it all, linking the days like pearls on a string. Foolish of course, but do you see how it might happen? We wake at night and recall an event that seems to define a fixed period of time, perhaps the memory of a beat-up bike we had as a kid, or a particular chair where we sat and laughed with friends; a house, a book, a piece of music, even a green parrot winding its way through city streets. And do you see that bubble of air balanced at the tip of its yellow beak? That's the time in which we lived.
Reprinted with permission of Penguin Books, a division of The Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Just as a blue tip of a compass needle
stills to north, you stare at a pencil
with sharpened point, a small soapstone
bear with a tiny chunk of turquoise
tied to its back, the random pattern
of straw flecked in an adobe wall;
you peruse the silver poplar branches,
the spaces between branches, and as
a cursor blinks, situate at the edge
of loss—the axolotl was last sighted
in Xochimilco over twenty years ago;
a jaguar meanders through tawny
brush in the Gila Wilderness—
and, as the cursor blinks, you guess
it’s a bit of line that arcs—a parsec
made visible—and as you sit,
the imperfections that mark you
attune you to a small emptied flask
tossed to the roadside and the x,
never brewed, that throbs in your veins.
Copyright @ 2014 by Arthur Sze. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 4, 2014.
I glimpse the tulips every two seconds.
They arrived late this year. Those who planted
The bulbs must not have considered how they
Would look from here—red, paired with pink dogwood.
Seven umbrellas float by; only one
Inverts. Ammonia swathed on the machines
Makes this walk to nowhere less appealing.
A police car patrols the next window
Where a dingy white van remains parked. It
Is difficult to discern if it’s still
Raining. Two bridges (I have crossed neither)
And the asylum for the criminally
Insane loom across the estuary.
An old woman obscured by a plum cloche
Appears to hail a taxi but after
One stops, it’s clear that she is waving to
Children who laugh as they glide past. She turns
And exits my view. I will try to eat
Six green things today and nothing white. A
Flash dance mob and you are as likely to
Appear. My tiny bottle of perfume
Is almost empty. It sits alone, a
Deluxe sample, on the pink tray I bought
Last century in Florence. I don’t know
If I’ll buy a bottle—still unable
To find, at forty, my signature scent.
The postman slumps against the fountain, his
Body the heaviest load that he has
To carry. How much rain would it take for
The fountain to overflow? I wish I
Hadn’t been too self-conscious to learn the
Basics of the Argentine tango in
The three lessons before the wedding in
Thessaloniki. Ever since I read
Bronte, I refuse to use an umbrella
And pretend I’m walking the moors even
In the city. I am never where I
Am. If I told you what I look forward
To, I couldn’t bear your pity. I would
Not do any of this without music.
This room is a drenched rag of desire,
Even when it’s empty. It is not too
Late to learn something new, even with this
Trach scar and three letters in my desk drawer.
Nine dogs saunter past, smelling the sidewalk.
The weather does not seem to bother them.
It is too early to be this dark out.
I don’t want to leave the building today.
Copyright @ 2014 by Jennifer Franklin. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 10, 2014.
The sky keeps lying to the farmhouse,
lining up its heavy clouds
above the blue table umbrella,
then launching them over the river.
And the day feels hopeless
until it notices a few trees
dropping delicately their white petals
on the grass beside the birdhouse
perched on its wooden post,
the blinking fledglings stuffed inside
like clothes in a tiny suitcase. At first
you wandered lonely through the yard
and it was no help knowing Wordsworth
felt the same, but then Whitman
comforted you a little, and you saw
the grass as uncut hair, yearning
for the product to make it shine.
Now you lie on the couch beneath the skylight,
the sky starting to come clean,
mixing its cocktail of sadness and dazzle,
a deluge and then a digging out
and then enough time for one more
dance or kiss before it starts again,
darkening, then brightening.
You listen to the tall wooden clock
in the kitchen: its pendulum clicks
back and forth all day, and it chimes
with a pure sound, every hour on the hour,
though it always mistakes the hour.
Copyright © 2015 by Kim Addonizio. Used with permission of the author.
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.
From What the Living Do, copyright © 1998 by Marie Howe. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved.
For years I went to the Peruvian barbers on 18th Street
—comforting, welcome: the full coatrack,
three chairs held by three barbers,
oldest by the window, the middle one
a slight fellow who spoke an oddly feminine Spanish,
the youngest last, red-haired, self-consciously masculine,
and in each of the mirrors their children’s photos,
smutty cartoons, postcards from Machu Picchu.
I was happy in any chair, though I liked best
the touch of the eldest, who’d rest his hand
against my neck in a thoughtless, confident way.
Ten years maybe. One day the powdery blue
steel shutters pulled down over the window and door,
not to be raised again. They’d lost their lease.
I didn’t know how at a loss I’d feel;
this haze around what I’d like to think
the sculptural presence of my skull
requires neither art nor science,
but two haircuts on Seventh, one in Dublin,
Then (I hear my friend Marie
laughing over my shoulder, saying In your poems
there’s always a then, and I think, Is it a poem
without a then?) dull early winter, back on 18th,
upspiraling red in a cylinder of glass, just below the line
of sidewalk, a new sign, WILLIE’S BARBERSHOP.
Dark hallway, glass door, and there’s (presumably) Willie.
When I tell him I used to go down the street
he says in an inscrutable accent, This your home now,
puts me in a chair, asks me what I want and soon he’s clipping
and singing with the radio’s Latin dance tune.
That’s when I notice Willie’s walls,
though he’s been here all of a week, spangled with images
hung in barber shops since the beginning of time:
lounge singers, near-celebrities, random boxers
—Italian boys, Puerto Rican, caught in the hour
of their beauty, though they’d scowl at the word.
Cheering victors over a trophy won for what?
Frames already dusty, at slight angles,
here, it is clear, forever. Are barbershops
like aspens, each sprung from a common root
ten thousand years old, sons of one father,
holding up fighters and starlets to shield the tenderness
at their hearts? Our guardian Willie defies time,
his chair our ferryboat, and we go down into the trance
of touch and the skull-buzz drone
singing cranial nerves in the direction of peace,
and so I understand that in the back
of this nothing building on 18th Street
—I’ve found that door
ajar before, in daylight, when it shouldn’t be,
some forgotten bulb left burning in a fathomless shaft
of my uncharted nights—
the men I have outlived
await their turns, the fevered and wasted, whose mothers
and lovers scattered their ashes and gave away their clothes.
Twenty years and their names tumble into a numb well
—though in truth I have not forgotten one of you,
may I never forget one of you—these layers of men,
arrayed in their no-longer-breathing ranks.
Willie, I have not lived well in my grief for them;
I have lugged this weight from place to place
as though it were mine to account for,
and today I sit in your good chair, in the sixth decade
of my life, and if your back door is a threshold
of the kingdom of the lost, yours is a steady hand
on my shoulder. Go down into the still waters
of this chair and come up refreshed, ready to face the avenue.
Maybe I do believe we will not be left comfortless.
After everything comes tumbling down or you tear it down
and stumble in the shadow-valley trenches of the moon,
there’s a still a decent chance at—a barber shop,
salsa on the radio, the instruments of renewal wielded,
effortlessly, and, who’d have thought, for you.
Willie if he is Willie fusses much longer over my head
than my head merits, which allows me to be grateful
without qualification. Could I be a little satisfied?
There’s a man who loves me. Our dogs. Fifteen,
twenty more good years, if I’m a bit careful.
There’s what I haven’t written. It’s sunny out,
though cold. After I tip Willie
I’m going down to Jane Street, to a coffee shop I like,
and then I’m going to write this poem. Then
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Doty. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
My wife’s new pink slippers
have gay pom-poms.
There is not a spot or a stain
on their satin toes or their sides.
All night they lie together
under her bed’s edge.
Shivering I catch sight of them
and smile, in the morning.
Later I watch them
descending the stair,
hurrying through the doors
and round the table,
with a shake of their gay pom-poms!
And I talk to them
in my secret mind
out of pure happiness.
This poem is in the public domain.
The lettering on the shop window in which
you catch a glimpse of yourself is in Polish.
Behind you a man quickly walks by, nearly shouting
into his cell phone. Then a woman
at a dreamier pace, carrying a just-bought bouquet
upside-down. All on a street where pickpockets abound
along with the ubiquitous smell of something baking.
It is delicious to be anonymous on a foreign city street.
Who knew this could be a life, having languages
instead of relationships, struggling even then,
finding out what it means to be a woman
by watching the faces of men passing by.
I went to distant cities, it almost didn’t matter
which, so primed was I to be reverent.
All of them have the beautiful bridge
crossing a grey, near-sighted river,
one that massages the eyes, focuses
the swooping birds that skim the water’s surface.
The usual things I didn’t pine for earlier
because I didn’t know I wouldn’t have them.
I spent so much time alone, when I actually turned lonely
it was vertigo.
Myself estranged is how I understood the world.
My ignorance had saved me, my vices fueled me,
and then I turned forty. I who love to look and look
couldn’t see what others did.
Now I think about currencies, linguistic equivalents, how
lop-sided they are, while
my reflection blurs in the shop windows.
Wanting to be as far away as possible exactly as much as still
Shamelessly entering a Starbucks (free wifi) to write this.
Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Grotz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
Ten years of driving the same highway, past the same tree, the
at last complete. The eucalyptus tree and narrow birds above a
steel sea with no thoughts of yesterday, today, or tomorrow.
Black cormorants on bare branches spread their wings as if in
A sunny day in Summerland and the tree, visible only from the
hides its penitent perch from cars racing by too fast.
Four wheels swerve to avoid a sheer cliff, southbound on the 101.
The fat sun slides its yolk into the glass ocean. Slow down, see
an empty nest of woven round sticks in the praying tree.
Birds soak in rays without fear of melanoma or the nature
of forgiveness. Slick imperfections, wet wings
open and close in Morse code for goodbye.
Copyright © 2015 by Melinda Palacio. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 23, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
There is a holiness to exhaustion
is what I keep telling myself,
filling out the form so my TA gets paid
then making copies of it on the hot
and heaving machine, writing
Strong start! on a pretty bad poem.
And then the children: the baby’s
mouth opening, going for the breast,
the girl’s hair to wash tonight
and then comb so painstakingly
in the tub while conditioner drips
in slick globs onto her shoulders,
while her discipline chart flaps in the air
conditioner at school, taped
to a filing cabinet, longing for stickers.
My heart is so giant this evening,
like one of those moons so full
and beautiful and terrifying
if you see it when you’re getting out
of the car you have to go inside the house
and make someone else come out
and see it for themselves. I want every-
thing, I admit. I want yes of course
and I want it all the time. I want
a clean heart. I want the children
to sleep and the drought
to end. I want the rain to come
down—It’s supposed to monsoon
is what Naomi said, driving away
this morning, and she was right,
as usual. It’s monsooning. Still,
I want more. Even as the streets
are washed clean and then begin
to flood. Even though the man
came again today to check the rat traps
and said he bet we’d catch the rat
within 24 hours. We still haven’t caught
the rat, so I’m working at the table
with my legs folded up beneath me.
I want to know what is holy—
I do. But first I want the rat to die.
I am thirsty for that death
and will drink deeply of that victory,
the thwack of the trap’s hard plastic jaw,
I will rush to see the evidence no matter
how gruesome, leaning my body over
the washing machine to see the thing
crushed there, much smaller
than I’d imagined it’d be,
the strawberry large in its mouth.
Copyright © 2015 by Carrie Fountain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 30, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Exactly four different men have tried
to teach me how to play. I could never
tell the difference between a rook
or bishop, but I knew the horse meant
knight. And that made sense to me,
because a horse is night: soot-hoof
and nostril, dark as a sabled evening
with no stars, bats, or moon blooms.
It’s a night in Ohio where a man sleeps
alone one week and the next, the woman
he will eventually marry leans her body
into his for the first time, leans a kind
of faith, too—filled with white crickets
and bouquets of wild carrot. And
the months and the honeyed years
after that will make all the light
and dark squares feel like tiles
for a kitchen they can one day build
together. Every turn, every sacrificial
move—all the decoys, the castling,
the deflections—these will be both
riotous and unruly, the exact opposite
of what she thought she ever wanted
in the endgame of her days.
Copyright © 2015 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?
Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk?
At rich men’s tables eaten bread and pulse?
Unarmed, faced danger with a heart of trust?
And loved so well a high behavior,
In man or maid, that thou from speech refrained,
Nobility more nobly to repay?
O, be my friend, and teach me to be thine!
This poem is in the public domain.
Fountain-head and source of rivers,
And napkin spread by fays;
Drifting meadow of the air,
Where bloom the daisied banks and violets,
And in whose fenny labyrinth
The bittern booms and heron wades;
Spirit of lakes and seas and rivers,—
Bear only perfumes and the scent
Of healing herbs to just men’s fields.
This poem is in the public domain.
Give praise with psalms that tell the trees to sing, Give praise with Gospel choirs in storefront churches, Mad with the joy of the Sabbath, Give praise with the babble of infants, who wake with the sun, Give praise with children chanting their skip-rope rhymes, A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry living wild on the Streets through generations of children. Give praise with the sound of the milk-train far away With its mutter of wheels and long-drawn-out sweet whistle As it speeds through the fields of sleep at three in the morning, Give praise with the immense and peaceful sigh Of the wind in the pinewoods, At night give praise with starry silences. Give praise with the skirling of seagulls And the rattle and flap of sails And gongs of buoys rocked by the sea-swell Out in the shipping-lanes beyond the harbor. Give praise with the humpback whales, Huge in the ocean they sing to one another. Give praise with the rasp and sizzle of crickets, katydids and cicadas, Give praise with hum of bees, Give praise with the little peepers who live near water. When they fill the marsh with a shimmer of bell-like cries We know that the winter is over. Give praise with mockingbirds, day's nightingales. Hour by hour they sing in the crepe myrtle And glossy tulip trees On quiet side streets in southern towns. Give praise with the rippling speech Of the eider-duck and her ducklings As they paddle their way downstream In the red-gold morning On Restiguche, their cold river, Salmon river, Wilderness river. Give praise with the whitethroat sparrow. Far, far from the cities, Far even from the towns, With piercing innocence He sings in the spruce-tree tops, Always four notes And four notes only. Give praise with water, With storms of rain and thunder And the small rains that sparkle as they dry, And the faint floating ocean roar That fills the seaside villages, And the clear brooks that travel down the mountains And with this poem, a leaf on the vast flood, And with the angels in that other country.
From Living Things by Anne Porter, published by Zoland Books, an imprint of Steerforth Press of Hanover, New Hampshire. Copyright © 2006 by Anne Porter. All rights reserved.
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew—
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc únselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.
This poem is in the public domain.
I loved the things that were ours—pink gloves,
hankies with a pastoral scene in one corner.
There was a lot we were not allowed to do,
but what we were allowed to do was ours,
dolls you carry by the leg, and dolls’
clothes you would put on or take off—
someone who was yours, who did not
have the rights of her own nakedness,
and who had a smooth body, with its
untouchable place, which you would never touch, even on her,
you had been cured of that.
And some of the dolls had hard-rubber hands, with
dimples, and though you were not supposed to, you could
bite off the ends of the fingers when you could not stand it.
And though you’d never be allowed to, say, drive a bus,
or do anything that had to be done right, there was a
teeny carton, in you, of eggs
so tiny they were invisible.
And there would be milk, in you, too—real
milk! And you could wear a skirt, you could
be a bellflower—up under its
cone the little shape like a closed
buckle, intricate groove and tongue,
where something like God’s power over you lived. And it
you shared some things with boys—
the alphabet was not just theirs—
and you could make forays over into their territory,
you could have what you could have because it was yours,
and a little of what was theirs, because
you took it. Much later, you’d have to give things
up, too, to make it fair—long
hair, skirts, even breasts, a pair
of raspberry colored pumps which a friend
wanted to put on, if they would fit his foot, and they did.
Copyright © 2015 by Sharon Olds. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I wake, doubt, beside you,
like a curtain half-open.
I dress doubting,
like a cup
undecided if it has been dropped.
I eat doubting,
go out to a dubious cafe with skeptical friends.
I go to sleep doubting myself,
as a herd of goats
sleep in a suddenly gone-quiet truck.
I dream you, doubt,
for what is the meaning of dreaming
if not that all we are while inside it
is transient, amorphous, in question?
Left hand and right hand,
doubt, you are in me,
throwing a basketball, guiding my knife and my fork.
Left knee and right knee,
we run for a bus,
for a meeting that surely will end before we arrive.
I would like
to grow content in you, doubt,
as a double-hung window
settles obedient into its hidden pulleys and ropes.
I doubt I can do so:
your own counterweight governs my nights and my days.
As the knob of hung lead holds steady
the open mouth of a window,
you hold me,
my kneeling before you resistant, stubborn,
offering these furious praises
I can’t help but doubt you will ever be able to hear.
Copyright © 2016 by Jane Hirshfield. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 4, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
I hear you call, pine tree, I hear you upon the hill, by the silent pond
where the lotus flowers bloom, I hear you call, pine tree.
What is it you call, pine tree, when the rain falls, when the winds
blow, and when the stars appear, what is it you call, pine tree?
I hear you call, pine tree, but I am blind, and do not know how to
reach you, pine tree. Who will take me to you, pine tree?
This poem is in the public domain.
The light here on earth keeps us plenty busy: a fire
in central Pennsylvania still burns bright since 1962.
Whole squads of tiny squid blaze up the coast of Japan
before sunrise. Of course you didn’t show when we went
searching for you, but we found other lights: firefly,
strawberry moon, a tiny catch of it in each other’s teeth.
Someone who saw you said they laid down
in the middle of the road and took you all in,
and I’m guessing you’re used to that—people falling
over themselves to catch a glimpse of you
and your weird mint-glow shushing itself over the lake.
Aurora, I’d rather stay indoors with him—even if it meant
a rickety hotel and its wood paneling, golf carpeting
in the bathrooms, and grainy soapcakes. Instead
of waiting until just the right hour of the shortest
blue-night of the year when you finally felt moved
enough to collide your gas particles with sun particles—
I’d rather share sunrise with him and loon call
over the lake with him, the slap of shoreline threaded
through screen windows with him. My heart
slams in my chest, against my shirt—it’s a kind
of kindling you’d never be able to light on your own.
Copyright © 2016 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 1, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
At night the Universe grows lean, sober- faced, of intoxication, The shadow of the half-sphere curtains down closely against my world, like a doorless cage, and the stillness chained by wrinkled darkness strains throughout the Uni- verse to be free. Listen, frogs in the pond, (the world is a pond itself) cry out for the light, for the truth! The curtains rattle ghostlily along, bloodily biting my soul, the winds knocking on my cabin door with their shadowy hands.
This poem is in the public domain.
He came back from halfway around the world like that,
tongue tied around him like a scarf. Everything set before him
set to bursting. The fear that what he’d seen—
what had been inside him—that one
clear note—now would slip away. He’d go back
to an electric life, stupid with administration.
How does one re-enter a calendar?
He was still in love with the yellow dirt seen at the hour
of the museum’s closing, two weeks before the Palio.
With the sound he almost certainly heard his blood make
as he ate the last bite of liver toast
and finished off his wine, at night, in a tower beside
a total field. Or the remarkable look
a girl had given the bushes at 3 a.m.
on a hill above the Aegean before she let him
pull her pool-soaked dress up above her thighs.
He was still in love with all the cataclysms in his flesh.
Even though none of that was real anymore.
And it was his human duty to go onward, forget it all,
get caught back up in the cloud of the thing.
The next morning he woke up, fully home,
ignorant as ever, just perhaps a light along the edge
of responsibility, the tasks that called him by a name.
As if their stress and weight existed only didn’t.
A brief glimpse, and then that part of what’s just in the mind
scampering back into undergrowth. (They called it capriola,
which was perfect.) And then—drawing himself out of bed
and lacing up his shoes. Getting out and running among
buildings, the stacked reds and blues of Brooklyn. Gaping
at the faces of his neighbors, or the way a leaf hangs,
or a swatch of pavement wet between parked cars.
Huffing widely at it, and running a little slower.
Gathering it all up into his mouth.
Copyright © 2016 by Jay Deshpande. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 9, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him—at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off;—and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon,—such as she was,
So late-arising,—to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man—one man—can’t fill a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It's thus he does it of a winter night.
This poem is in the public domain.
for Monica Hand
there’s a whispered prayer blowing
the crumbs of a season’s harvest
off a girl’s plate
& a roar breaks from her insides,
the roar a lioness
a beast that knows
& a man kneels somewhere
cupping his tears
for the loneliness he feels
though he’s surrounded by the world,
& a finch in a tree singing
for a lover as the buds on its branch
pop into leaves that will flourish
& welcome the green grasses,
Right now a boy is wondering
if people can really dodge bullets
& is he one of them & somewhere nobody bothers
to ask, they simply wait
Wind spins across the landscape
they say God is twirling his fingers—
The heartbroken hook new bodies,
night after night, drink after drink
& I dance—my feet mashing grapes
for wine & I sing mockingly—
what is life / what is life
Copyright © 2017 by Roberto Carlos Garcia. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Suffering I drifted to you
Seeing my suffering you suffered
Our conference on calamity
Our joints moved against wind
Sustained our growing pain
Until protruding bones
From our rumpled skin coats
Broke through to expose
Their staid, stagnant structures
To a cat we were dual cat castles
A bird perched upon my clavicle
To a friend traveling by
We no longer existed
But our suffering did
Copyright © 2017 by Alan Felsenthal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
God likes to be played like a piano.
Dawn glows with sailors dancing in the eye of a storm
by the river of black water. These days
things make sense under the green and yellow
and brown sky of Granada and I wear a tie as penance
for the sins of my navel. The saints of the north
and the saints of the south fly by dropping scorpions
down my neck and those women
with fire in their eyes drink melon juice and wink.
I play billiards on the other side of town
thinking bone in and bone out is the legacy of canines.
The camouflage, the hunt, the war of ice and water.
God knows. He clinks all day and night.
Fly me to the moon. Yes, I’d rather be sleeping.
A slender, tender rain comes over Granada
and the storm passes and the city sighs.
Copyright © 2017 by Pablo Medina. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 9, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
This hour, while a child sleeps, before he wakes
and those arcadian hours we make together—
is it a continued arch, vaulted, open at both ends, is it
a bending?—recommence. Yes, a bending.
Light before you’d call it light bluing the sky.
The old city below, a fidget toy’s
string of buildings; doves calling and answering
from ledges in the cavities; a low
branching into divisions of memory;
a hot afternoon’s lunch on the grounds
of the museum, children at play in
tethered circles; traffic and voices from the avenues
carrying along the bright cold mornings
on the lawns of big houses near the hotel;
those who saw me home, whoever they were
(though I know who they are), I also saw them home.
I rode in their cars. I rode with the mother of the boy
who lost all his words, she gave us a ride, the boys
with their large eyes, sitting up high beside
each other and smiling; the empty avenues
of asphalt from the station to the new
hospital to the corner we rounded
and, past the galvanized fence, a school;
the city narrows there;
there is the river, suddenly;
and then a spread of houses like a cowl on the head
of the island; a journey whose meaning
was as yet unknown though I know it sometimes;
sheep on a patch of land at the convergence
of two superhighways; no silence in the train;
harvesters in orange and red slickers
among the lettuces; swifts overhead;
apricots flecked with rose; lichen spreading
on corrugated iron; short-wave voices of those
who are gone now remembered in the intonation
of throwaway phrases; it should not follow
but it follows; and are their fathers here;
one of them is, white stubble where his razor
didn’t pass that calls up his morning,
the temperature of his cheek, and how
luck befriended us then, and at this hour,
which rests on a child’s sleeping.
Copyright © 2017 by Saskia Hamilton. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
My father fell from the boat.
His balance had been poor for some time.
He had gone out in the boat with his dog
hunting ducks in a marsh near Trempealeau, Wisconsin.
No one else was near
save the wiry farmer scraping the gutters in the cow barn
who was deaf in one ear from years of machines—
and he was half a mile away.
My father fell from the boat
and the water pulled up around him, filled
his waders and this drew him down.
He descended into water the color of weak coffee.
The dog went into the water too,
thinking perhaps this was a game.
I must correct myself—dogs do not think as we do—
they react, and the dog reacted by swimming
around my father’s head. This is not a reassuring story
about a dog signaling for help by barking,
or, how by licking my father’s face, encouraged him
to hold on. The dog eventually tired and went ashore
to sniff through the grass, enjoy his new freedom
from the attentions of his master,
indifferent to my father’s plight.
The water was cold, I know that,
and my father has always chilled easily.
That he was cold is a certainty, though
I have never asked him about this event.
I do not know how he got out of the water.
I believe the farmer went looking for him
after my mother called in distress, and then drove
to the farm after my father did not return home.
My mother told me of this event in a hushed voice,
cupping her hand over the phone and interjecting
cheerful non sequiturs so as not to be overheard.
To admit my father’s infirmity
would bring down the wrath of the God of Nothingness
who listens for a tremulous voice and comes rushing in
to sweep away the weak with icy, unloving breath.
But that god was called years before
during which time he planted a kernel in my father’s brain
which grew, freezing his tongue,
robbing him of his equilibrium.
The god was there when he fell from the boat,
whispering from the warren of my father’s brain,
and it was there when my mother, noting the time,
knew that something was amiss. This god is a cold god,
a hungry god, selfish and with poor sight.
This god has the head of a dog.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Wunderlich. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Kind height, kind in the right stomach with a little sudden mill.
Cunning shawl, cunning shawl to be steady.
In white in white handkerchiefs with little dots in a white belt all shadows are singular they are singular and procured and relieved.
No that is not the cows shame and a precocious sound, it is a bite.
Cut up alone the paved way which is harm. Harm is old boat and a likely dash.
This poem is in the public domain.
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Eruptive lightnings flutter to and fro
Above the heights of immemorial hills;
Thirst-stricken air, dumb-throated, in its woe
Limply down-sagging, its limp body spills
Upon the earth. A panting silence fills
The empty vault of Night with shimmering bars
Of sullen silver, where the lake distils
Its misered bounty.—Hark! No whisper mars
The utter silence of the untranslated stars.
This poem is in the public domain.
Copyright © 2017 by Catherine Barnett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
& of the lattermath I can only say that with the rain the cattails grew so high that the longing nearly subsided this morning I am all moonshine on the snowbank clockwise back to a better self I am tenderfoot daisywheel though yesterday I was warpath and daydreams of underfoot animals o my fishhook in sheepskin I want to spacewalk in time with you to teaspoon sugar into your mouth to clean horsehairs from under your fingernails honeymoon of the longhouse I’ll meet you on the shadyside of the limestone for years I grew lukewarm with a backache but now I am whitefish and blackberries I am forbearer and undercurrent buttermilk and motherhood watertight thunderbird forgive me my wipeout my deadend and foremost forgive me my butterball my washrag wrung out the grasslands of the graveyard I nearly misrecognized what I almost became eggshell watercolor drained pipe goodbye o my forever bedclothes yours is the body warmblooded washbowl that I seahorse into night after night and the dogwood timepiece ticks the gumball fruitcup earache of our girls you my wavelength my tailbone lemonlime jellybean crewcut backstroke beachcomber I do I do
Copyright © 2018 by Nicole Callihan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
You, who have bowed your head, shed another season of antlers at my feet, for years you fall asleep to the lullabies of dolls, cotton-stuffed and frayed, ears damp with sleep and saliva, scalps knotted with yarn, milk-breath, and yawns. Birth is a torn ticket stub, a sugar cone wrapped in a paper sleeve, the blackest ice. It has been called irretrievable, a foreign coin, the moon’s slip, showing, a pair of new shoes rubbing raw your heel. I lose the back of my earring and bend the metal in such a way as to keep it fastened to me. In the universe where we are strangers, you kick with fury, impatient as grass. I have eaten all your names. In this garden you are blue ink, baseball cap wishbone, pulled teeth, wet sand, hourglass. There are locks of your hair in the robin’s nest and clogging the shower drain. You, who are covered in feathers, who have witnessed birth give birth to death and watched death suck her purple nipple. You long for a mother like death’s mother, want to nurse until drunk you dream of minnows swimming through your ears—their iridescence causing you to blink, your arms twitching. Even while you sleep I feed you.
Copyright © 2018 by Ama Codjoe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.