29 July 2006

Betty Adcock

[from Betty Adcock's The Difficult Wheel, 1995]

The Woman Hidden in This Painting

Like a renegade summer she begins
to burn outside defining lines
almost as if a child’s hand traced
and lost her.
Window, leaf, bird, the stony hill
absorb her until the body’s only
a put-off dress, a color vanishing
so slowly the watcher in his trance
misses it entirely.

Now a lifting as if her arms are lifting,
a soaring sheer
stretch—and her skin is air.
Or say a string of beads has scattered
and the whole light gathers them
invisible in bright haze
as the pear that might have rested
where morning struck such shine from the table.

One rose gray feather on the sill
implies the silk-on-silk of dove call
she might hear. Just there,
the open curtain would brush her fingers
and the plain white cup obscure
her wrist unbraceleted.

One line might draw her back, a traveler again
in flesh upon a track of bone,
to cast against the sun-drenched wall
a shadow, dark heel knit to her heel,
time plangent in the bell-bright blue
shawl on her shoulder. See
how she was and will be here,
a dream staining the light the painter
has forgotten?

Beyond, beyond the half-open curtain,
the apron of grass is, and ribboning
paths hemstitched with chicory.
Farther still (O the eye is endless)
dark trees feather a restless sky.
She will return in this, a mist
at her throat, her arms reddened
with horizon. The gray of the hare’s flank
is the gray her eyes give back.

And pale. The face when we have seen it
will be pale beneath the glow
the wind’s pearls told her.
Presence, she whispers,
a changing
chink of weather in the window.

28 July 2006

Susan Stewart

[from Susan Stewart's The Forest, 1995]


Who would name a child for sorrow?
(There in Tiepolo’s drawing of the Christ,
his infant hand playing in
a basin’s steam.) Who, naming
the child, would give rise to this?
For the child is unacquainted,
unfamiliar, and hears
a name as just a shape, a random
softness. Who would that a sorrow
become a child, a shadow stiffening
in time? Something entered
like a mantle, a prior
contract—not burning
itself, but capable.

23 July 2006

A. E. Stallings

[A. E. Stallings's Hapax 2006]

Visiting the Grave of Rupert Brooke

Island of Skyros, Greece

Rupert, this was where, I’m sure you knew,
The sea nymph Thetis took Achilles to,
And hid him, with his smooth cheek and gold curls,
Among the royal retinue of girls,
As any mother might, to save her son,
From war and death, by arrow or the gun.
Odysseus, recruiting, in disguise,
Set out for sale a range of merchandise,
Stuffs no princess easily resists—
Fine brocades, and bangles for the wrists,
All manner of adornments, silver, gold,
And set a blade among them, brazen, cold—
A simple trap that might catch any boy.
But only old men made it home from Troy.

22 July 2006

Thorpe Moeckel

[from Thorpe Moeckel’s Odd Botany, 2002]

Living by Water

How many times can a man go to the river,
dip his hands in, touch them to his face,

face the wind, the sun, then touch the rocks
so as not to fall stepping across,

scrambling to a certain beach or grotto
where in going, in arriving, in every breath

between, the heart sheds foul layers —
greed, vanity — as if shale, the flakes

worked by gravity to sand, mineral —
water he spits, water he thirsts for;

how many before he’s holding the hands
of children, keeping them from falling in,

knowing they must, as a river must
not make a circle nor a man too easily believe

in rivers, no matter droughts known,
obscenities of flood, choking trout,

bloated fawns; no matter how many boats
pushed off — boats of sin,

redemption-boats — or bodies explored,
campsites slept with sounds of water

tucking behind every rock burst against;
how many before he must be carried there,

perhaps by a stranger, perhaps he’s the stranger now,
but not to the birds, beasts, flowers because

he’s forgotten their names, knows they were
never grateful of his awe, less of his pity.

21 July 2006

Rae Armantrout

[from Rae Armantrout's The Pretext, 2001]

The Past

as a drum
or tight as a drum? Quick!

Is recognition

She never thought
when she was waiting tables
that there would be null sets.

People come first, but
categories outlast them.

She said, “If you’re gonna hire
the dummies, I quit!”

She thinks
this may be one
of those waitresses here.

Someone has probably mixed up
recognition with hatred.

Is she holding
a grudge,
a séance
or a piece of bread

which she won’t eat because
has taken a bite of it?

20 July 2006

James Richardson

[from James Richardson's Interglacial, this poem from his book Second Guesses, 1984]

As One Might Have Said

May, and O might,
updraft and spin of blossom, can
all our furl, human,
untwist for this ridiculous
rose-must and white—in love with trees?
What evolutions
crossed here—did ur-man
blow through cleft trunks,
that throw and wind-fear of his loins
cached now in his genes, so we
in the dazzle and torque of petals
say, say against
ourselves, I have walked in the churning
heart of a god?

19 July 2006

Ron Rash

I’ve been reading novels written by the poet Ron Rash since they began appearing in 2003. The first, One Foot in Eden is so remarkable I read it twice in a week. His latest, The World Made Straight is also fine: begins with great tension, quietens to a deep study of major and minor characters, then rises to a finish as complex and irresolvable as life. Strongly recommend.

Marianne Boruch

[Marianne Boruch from Poetry Magazine, June 2006]

After the Moon

eclipsed itself, the rumor of darkness
true, the whole radiant business
almost over, only a line,
an edge, like some
stray part of a machine
                                   not one of us
can figure any more:
what it thrashed or cut, what it sewed
quietly together, what it scalded
or brought back from the dead. After this,
I came inside to sleep.
                                   But it’s the moon still,
pale run of it shaping
the door closed against the half-lit hall.
The eye is its own small flicker orbiting under the lid
a few hours.
                    Not so long,
bright rim,
giving up its genius
briefly, mountains under dark, craters
where someone, then no one
is walking.

Subscribe to Poetry Magazine here.

17 July 2006

Mary Ruefle

[from Mary Ruefle's memling's veil, 1982]

Six Arguments with Kafka

The story about the white horse, Franz,
the one who lept out of your ear as you
awoke: admit it; another drowsy fantasy.
The truth is, it probably snowed during
the night, and the white walls took on
another octave of white. Nevertheless,
something with haunches has assembled
itself in front of me. I can’t go on
like this. Can you get it to move,
Franz? Pretend there’s a corral in
your inner ear. Any kind of nimble
leap will do.

You complained about a bit of singing on the floor
below you: what kind of behavior is that? There are
mice here, scratching a ledger on the inside wall,
and I have the indifference of an angel. I know the
difference between objects and things. Look out my
window, how the clouds knit themselves together like
an infant’s skull, evening closing over an object full
of things: it’s ingenious and unimportant. I am sure
there’s nothing alive here, yet in anything tortuous
I might find it. The horrible birds of early dawn, so
many screeching monkeys flitting from tree to tree!
The endless tossing of mice! And those men below you,
they still sing, pouring your sorrow out the window!
I’m barely surpassing the desire to join in.
On the pavement, another rotten peach, exposed to any
random glance: Franz, it’s your heart!

We have a lot in common: grenadine and seltzer,
paralyzation on the sofa, astonishment: there’s
something to take by the waist! Being left alone with a
sentence, the weight of which compels one to lie down.
I know the pleasure of an absent-minded doctor,
tapping around the heart as if he weren’t sure.
But I never shared your thirst for opera: it’s
pointless, a grand scale of semblance resembling
nothing. Every time you yielded to it, I was sick,
which seemed closer to everything than the gargling
of angels! At times, your own proximity carried a
certain stench: the night you didn’t want to join us
in the café: I haven’t forgotten. The truth is, I
was glad. You always spoiled my evening, looking around
the tables for a drinking vessel in the shape of a bird.

Another thing, Franz, I despised: how you moved
through the Goethehaus with the sadness of a
cow. Of course the garden had gone on growing
since his death! No remorse in that—it’s gone
right on growing since you died as well.
Whether you stood still or embarked, your guilt
was the same. It’s senseless to go on! Even the
prospect of visiting your grave bores me. Though
I might return to the coffee house in Milan, where
after discussing asphyxia and possible heart
injections, we went different ways. Later, I
came running out of another street almost into
your arms. Once more I saw your hands, your eyes:
quiet, dilapidated things. To spare me, you turned

I am standing at the blackboard, Franz, writing
as many times as I can stand it as many times
as I can stand it. The things you carved on your
desk: they’re still here. Somewhere among the linked
initials and names that are still the names of the
students now, I found that scratched hardship
I am free to repeat myself. And like a real birth
you were always covered with filth and slime.
Nothing will tell you how to survive. Each moment
is done a different way. Once it was
a living angel, now the painted figurehead off
the prow of some ship suffices, and you can die
believing you have survived, but how will you know?
Franz, there are times I am sure it is something
I am trying to remember; then suddenly I am certain
it is something I am trying to forget.

I have lied, but it is a continuation of the lie
I always told you, that I might get the truth in
return. The truth is, I am not compelled to walk
about the streets talking to people. I have been
sitting at the window for seven months now, afraid
to sleep, keeping an eye on the uncertain weather.
There have been days without a single change, but I
have grown accustomed to the significance of every
piece of furniture. A few burrs of literature still
cling to my sleeve. They no longer matter. I’m set in
my ways: you wouldn’t recognize me. That place between my
eyes, where errors disappeared like magic, disappeared
like an error. And you, Franz, wrapped in a single long
bandage—you’re bound by the endless, my friend!
How I long for the old days! Once more, Franz, let’s
go out together and slit the throat of a sparrow.

16 July 2006

Tomas Tranströmer

[from Tomas Tranströmer's Selected Poems 1954-1986]


He put the pen down.
It lies there without moving.
It lies there without moving in empty space.
He put the pen down.

So much that can neither be written nor kept inside!
His body is stiffened by something happening far away
though the curious overnight bag beats like a heart.

Outside, the late spring.
From the foliage a whistling—people or birds?
And the cherry trees in bloom pat the heavy trucks on the way home.

Weeks go by.
Slowly night comes.
Moths settle down on the pane:
small pale telegrams from the world.

Adrienne Rich on "moral autism"

"America wants to forget the past, and the past in the present; and one result of that was Bitburg. Israeli denial is different. Years ago, I remember seeing, with great emotion, on the old Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Road, rusted tanks left from the 1948 war, on one of which was painted "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem . . ." But Palestinian memory has been violently obliterated. I fear for the kind of "moral autism" (Amos Oz's phrase) out of which both the United States and Israel, in their respective capacities of power, have made decisions leading to physical carnage and to acute internal disequilibrium and suffering."

[excerpted from Rich's keynote address to the New Jewish Agenda National Convention, Ann Arbor, Michigan, July 1985]

15 July 2006

Adrienne Rich

[from Adrienne Rich's Blood, Bread, and Poetry]

There are betrayals in my life that I have known at the very moment were betrayals: this was one of them. There are other betrayals committed so repeatedly, so mundanely, that they leave no memory trace behind, only a growing residue of misery, of dull, accreted self-hatred. Often these take the form not of words but of silence. Silence before the joke at which everyone is laughing: the anti-woman joke, the racist joke, the anti-Semitic joke. Silence and then amnesia. Blocking it out when the oppressor’s language starts coming from the lips of one we admire, whose courage and eloquence have touched us: She didn’t really mean that; he didn’t really say that. But the accretions build up out of sight, like scale inside a kettle.

Shirley Kaufman

[from Shirley Kaufman’s Rivers of Salt, 1993]

The Temples of Khajuraho (excerpt)

At the airport waiting for our plane,
we sat next to a Chinese man.
He took off his shoe and sock
and massaged his foot,
working his thumb and fingers
over the sole and delicate arch
of the instep. Then he held
his whole foot between his palms
and forgave it, rocking it
gently back and forth.
His hands seemed to know
what his foot wanted. . . .

Wild Flowers

After everything I’ve forgotten, now
on the other side of the world I hid in
as a child, it’s the same sun
running down my back, the same tick
of insects in the moist air.
When I stare into the tiny radiant pupil
of this blue-violet one and you say
eye of the madonna—the whole field
stares back in a golden nimbus,
leaves shine and the sweet quattrocento
faces I never prayed to.
There are daisies bunched in the grass,
red poppies, all the old flowers
I sang to, made chains from,
or sucked the milk out of,
shaggy and tender and on the verge.
And I’m down on my knees in the clover
where nothing has changed
or slipped through our fingers, still
looking for luck.

Three Songs of Love and Plenitude (excerpt)

2 To Know

Gönül says there is a special word
for know in Turkish which stands
for visual experience. To keep it
separate from the rest of knowing.

In Hebrew there are two words
with three meanings. Carnal,
as used in the Bible, and the others.
You have to be careful.

Now when you sit on the edge
of our bed, I know the smooth muscles
of your back in more than one language,
but I touch you just to be sure. . . .

14 July 2006

Lynn Emanuel

[from Lynn Emanuel’s The Dig, 1992]

One Summer Hurricane Lynn Spawns Tornadoes as Far West as Ely

The storm with my name dragged one
heavy foot over the roads of the county.
It was a bulge in a black raincoat, pointed
and hard as the spike in a railroad tie;
it dipped like a dowser’s rod and screamed
like the express at the bend at Elko.
It made the night feverish and the sky
burn with the cold blue fire of a motel sign.
Oh that small hell of mine nipped at the town,
turned the roads to mud, lingered at the horizon,
a long clog, a sump. All sigh and lamentation,
the whole city of grief rose up to face that black
boot that waited to kick us open like a clay pot.

This Is the Truth

Now, this is the truth of that particular fiction,
sweet angel, I mean, she hopes you do not buy
all that sweet domesticity, that tenderness and yielding.
She remembers her father only vaguely,
the glittering wreckage of his black hair,
rinsed in oils, the sap of melting pomade
that leaked from his sideburns which he dabbed
with a hankie. He inhabited his armchair
like a black cloud. Glum. Cultivated.
His temper was a downed power line
that fishtailed back and forth across their lives.
Lethal Hits. Near Misses. To avoid it
they crept for miles over dangerous passes
to Ely, my precious, they had stolen a car,
and were on the run, sleeping in tacky motel
rooms, cooking on a hot plate,
terrified and poor at last, oh my darling girl,
as you can only be when you have become
a fugitive from domestic life and are blessed
with nothing that anyone could want,
free and out of luck and poor, poor at last.

13 July 2006

Gibbons Ruark

[from Gibbons Ruark’s A Program for Survival, 1971]

The Spring

The car works the road into a lather
Of dust that falls through the glittering lens
Of sky till the world is washed by another
Weather. Trees that shivered their black bones open
Into flapping leaf-tents, the thick shade spreads
And fills the cross-work shadows of branches.
Sunken water rises and inflates the heads
Of mushrooms as the earth’s stiff sponge eases
Under my feet and the warm grass prickles.
I come to the flowers that tell me to turn
Down the breezy tunnel of trees until
The teeth of the fence turn white and turn
Me again and I am through the loosening
Gate and kneeling at the spring. I feel them
Watch me from the porch where they are talking,
Rocking. The sweet mist rises to the rim
Of the bricked-in hollow. I take the stone
Steps one at a time, clinging to the mossy
Side till every flicker of sun is gone
And I cup my hands to swallow the chilly
Spout springing from the bottom. I can hear
Dry birds’ voices babble down from the grass
And I dip my face again in the water.
They are calling. Before they call the last
Time I press my ear to the cooling
Wall and listen. I go up into the sun.
One is in the white swing, two are rocking.
I climb the steps to where they rock me one
By one in the bony hollows of their laps
And brush my cheek with their papery lips.

11 July 2006

Yusef Komunyakaa

[from Yusef Komunyakaa's Dien Cai Dau]


Opium, horse, nothing
sends anybody through concertina
this way. What is it in the brain
that so totally propels a man?
Caught with women in our heads
three hours before daybreak,
we fire full automatic
but they keep coming,
slinging satchel charges
at our bunkers. They fall
& rise again like torchbearers,
with their naked bodies
greased so moonlight dances
off their skin. They run
with explosives strapped
around their waists,
& try to fling themselves
into our arms.


Usually at the helipad
I see them stumble-dance
across the hot asphalt
with crokersacks over their heads,
moving toward the interrogation huts,
thin-framed as box kites
of sticks & black silk
anticipating a hard wind
that’ll tug & snatch them
out into space. I think
some must be laughing
under their dust-colored hoods,
knowing rockets are aimed
at Chu-Lai—that the water’s
evaporating & soon the nail
will make contact with metal.
How can anyone anywhere love
these half-broken figures
bent under the sky’s brightness?
The weight they carry
is the soil we tread night & day.
Who can cry for them?
I’ve heard the old ones
are the hardest to break.
An arm twist, a combat boot
against the skull, a .45
jabbed into the mouth, nothing
works. When they start talking
with ancestors faint as camphor
smoke in pagodas, you know
you’ll have to kill them
to get an answer.
Sunlight throws
scythes against the afternoon.

10 July 2006

Ted Hughes

[from Ted Hughes's Crow]

Crow’s Theology

Crow realized God loved him—
Otherwise, he would have dropped dead.
So that was proved.
Crow reclined, marvelling, on his heart-beat.

And he realized that God spoke crow—
Just existing was His revelation.

But what
Loved the stones and spoke stone?
They seemed to exist too.
And what spoke that strange silence
After his clamour of caws faded?

And what loved the shot-pellets
That dribbled from those strung-up mummifying crows?
What spoke the silence of lead?

Crow realized there were two Gods—

One of them much bigger than the other
Loving his enemies
And having all the weapons.

Crow’s Nerve Fails

Crow, feeling his brain slip.
Finds his every feather the fossil of a murder.

Who murdered all these?
These living dead, that root in his nerves and his blood
Till he’s visibly black?

How can he fly from his feathers?
And why have they homed on him?

Is he the archive of their accusations?
Or their ghostly purpose, their pining vengeance?
Or their unforgiven prisoner?

He cannot be forgiven.

His prison is the earth. Clothed in his conviction,
Trying to remember his crimes

Heavily he flies.


O littleblood, hiding from the mountains in the mountains.
Wounded by stars and leaking shadow
Eating the medical earth.

O littleblood, little boneless little skinless
Ploughing with a linnet’s carcase
Reaping the wind and threshing the stones.

O littleblood, drumming in a cow’s skull
Dancing with a gnat’s feet
With an elephant’s nose with a crocodile’s tail.

Grown so wise grown so terrible
Sucking death’s mouldy tits.

Sit on my finger, sing in my ear, O littleblood.

05 July 2006

Frank Bidart

If you know (and possibly dislike) recent Bidart, take a look at some early Bidart, 1966-1967, from Golden State, an excerpt from a poem titled "California Plush":

. . .

He [my father] was, of course, mistrustful, knowing I was bored,
knowing he had dragged me up here from Bakersfield

after five years

of almost managing to forget Bishop existed.

But he soon became loquacious, ordered a drink
and settled down for
an afternoon of talk . . .

He liked Bishop: somehow, it was to his taste, this
hard-drinking, loud, visited-by-movie-stars town.
“Better to be a big fish in a little pond.”

And he was: when they came to shoot a film,
he entertained them; Miss A——, who wore
nothing at all under her mink coat; Mr. M——,
good horseman, good shot.

“But when your mother
let me down” (for alcoholism and
infidelity, she divorced him)
“and Los Angeles wouldn’t give us water any more,
I had to leave.”

We were the first people to grow potatoes in this valley.”

When he began to tell me
that he lost control of the business
because of the settlement he gave my mother,

because I had heard it
many times,

in revenge, I asked why people up here drank so much.

He hesitated. “Bored, I guess.
—Not much to do.”

And why had Nancy’s husband left her?

In bitterness, all he said was:
“People up here drink too damn much.”

And that was how experience
had informed his life.

“So now I think I’ve learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet.”

. . .

                 I think of Proust, dying
in a cork-lined room, because he refuses to eat
because he thinks that he cannot write if he eats
because he wills to write, to finish his novel

—his novel which recaptures the past, and
with a kind of joy, because
in the debris
of the past, he has found the sources of the necessities

which have led him to this room, writing

—in this strange harmony, does he will
for it to have been different?

. . .

04 July 2006

Denise Levertov

Marianne Boruch, In the Blue Pharmacy, reprints and discusses this poem by Denise Levertov from Relearning the Alphabet]

An Embroidery (IV) Swiss Cheese

(after a lost poem, 1947)

Lost wooden poem,
cows and people wending
downmountain slowly
to wooden homesteads

cows first, the families
following calmly their swaying,
their pausing, their moving ahead in dreamy
Children asleep in the arms of old men,
healthy pallor of smooth cheeks facing
back to high pastures left for the day,
are borne down as the light
waits to leave.

Upper air glows with motes color of hay,
deep valley darkens.
Lost poem, I know
the cows were fragrant
and sounds were of hooves and feet on earth,
of clumps of good grass torn off, to chew
slowly; and not much talk.
They were returning
to wooden buckets, to lantern-beams
crisp as new straw.

Swiss cheese with black bread,
meadow, wood walls, what

did I do with you, I'm looking
through holes, in cheese, or
pine knotholes, and

who were those peaceful folk, the poem
was twenty years ago, I need it now.

03 July 2006

poets of the month

If you don't know about Poetry Net's poet of the month, you should.

Check out the poet of the month archives, for example, October, 2004, James Richardson, particularly his #5 and #6 aphorisms:

"All work is the avoidance of harder work."

"When I am trying to write I turn on music so I can hear what is keeping me from hearing."

02 July 2006

Kerri Webster

[from Kerri Webster's We Do Not Eat Our Hearts Alone]


There’s a word for sadness that dwells in the small
of the back, the dell where you bury your chin. You mark
the page where the animal comes down to drink
from stale water. There’s a word for release born of grief,
tempered with soapy musk in the creases. There is no
gazelle. There’s a catalogue of frequently absent hours,
a figure of speech for ellipsis that starts at the throat
and sashays night continents, skirting veldt, dwelling eons
in tundra where underbrush is just story, fabulous tinder.
You rise several times to drink from the sink’s moony
white, under-pipes moaning like vast mammals
shimmying through canyons of sea ice, somewhere
a ledger that measures the damp of the sheets,
charts all things alluvial between first longing
and loss, breviary of the subzero plains where I toss,
insomniac, missing. There’s phrase for absence gullied
just short of reckoning, ghost-damaging your rising
and falling weight inside me, there’s a verb for slow peril
logged in a commonplace book dog-eared and oily—
finger, finger. You mark the chapter where drowning
mirages into understanding, the whole book stab-stitched
or was it accordioned, a flaunt of unfolding and the pilgrim
drinking from a dirty glass.

01 July 2006

Samuel Beckett

[from Samuel Beckett's Molloy]

the sea loomed high in the waning sky . . .

Smoke, sticks, flesh, hair, at evening, afar, flung about the craving for a fellow. I know how to summon these rags to cover my shame. I wonder what that means. . . .

not that seeing matters but it's something to go on with . . .

It is in the tranquility of decomposition that I remember the long confused emotion that was my life. . . .

the present tense, when speaking of the past. It is the mythological present . . .

in me there have always been two fools, among others, one asking nothing better than to stay where he is and the other imagining that life might be slightly less horrible a little further on. . . .

I began to think, that is to say to listen harder . . .

there is never a last by the sea . . .