26 February 2008

Lisa Williams

Lisa Williams in the February issue of Poetry.

Stanley Plumly

[from Stanley Plumly's Old Heart, 2007]

The Woman Who Shoveled the Sidewalk

She clearly needed more than money,
which, anyway, wasn't much.
Her dog, one of those outlawed fighting breeds,
black-and-white and eyes too far apart,
kept snapping at the leash, the cash
I placed as simply as I could into her open hand.
Her small stalled car was what she lived in,
the death seat and backseat all-purposed into piles.
She was desperate so she blessed me.
I could almost feel my mother standing there,
the way she'd greet the lost after the war.
A woman vulnerable is powerful.
Poverty in all the texts grants grace
to the raveled and unwashed,
just as the soul we assign to what is singing
in the trees, even in winter, lives
in the face and voice of the least.
You could see the random child in her,
who had got, today, this far.
You could hear, under her words, silence.
There wasn't that much snow, enough
to take its picture if you left it untouched.
Her companionable, hostile dog was what she had,
who stayed in the car while she started in earnest,
as if the work were wages. Young, off
or still on drugs — I couldn't tell —
she was alone in every hard detail.
Each day is lifted, then put back down.
Tomorrow's snow turns back into the rain.
I had to be somewhere but knew when
I got home she'd be gone. And the walk,
from start to finish, would be clean.

Old Heart: Poems

24 February 2008

Edward Taylor

[Edward Taylor, 1682, from The English Poetry Database]

Thy Good Ointment

How sweet a Lord is mine? If any should
Guarded, Engarden'd, nay, Imbosomd bee
In reechs of Odours, Gales of Spices, Folds
Of Aromaticks, Oh! how sweet was hee?
He would be sweet, and yet his sweetest Wave
Compar'de to thee my Lord, no Sweet would have.

A Box of Ointments, broke; sweetness most sweet.
A surge of spices: Odours Common Wealth,
A Pillar of Perfume: a steaming Reech
Of Aromatick Clouds: All Saving Health.
Sweetness itselfe thou art: And I presume
In Calling of thee Sweet, who art Perfume.

But Woe is mee! who have so quick a Sent
To Catch perfumes pufft out from Pincks, and Roses
And other Muscadalls, as they get Vent,
Out of their Mothers Wombs to bob our noses.
And yet thy sweet perfume doth seldom latch
My Lord, within my Mammulary Catch.

Am I denos'de? or doth the Worlds ill sents
Engarison my nosthrills narrow bore?
Or is my smell lost in these Damps it Vents?
And shall I never finde it any more?
Or is it like the Hawks, or Hownds whose breed
Take stincking Carrion for Perfume indeed?

This is my Case. All things smell sweet to mee:
Except thy sweetness, Lord. Expell these damps.
Breake up this Garison: and let me see
Thy Aromaticks pitching in these Camps.
Oh! let the Clouds of thy sweet Vapours rise,
And both my Mammularies Circumcise.

Shall Spirits thus my Mammularies suck?
(As Witches Elves their teats,) and draw from thee
My Dear, Dear Spirit after fumes of muck?
Be Dunghill Damps more sweet than Graces bee?
Lord, clear these Caves. These Passes take, and keep.
And in these Quarters lodge thy Odours sweet.

Lord, breake thy Box of Ointment on my Head;
Let thy sweet Powder powder all my hair:
My Spirits let with thy perfumes be fed
And make thy Odours, Lord, my nosthrills fare.
My Soule shall in thy sweets then soar to thee:
I'le be thy Love, thou my sweet Lord shalt bee.

23 February 2008

Daisy Fried

[from Daisy Fried's My Brother Is Getting Arrested Again, 2006]

The Hawk

On July 21, 2005, Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.) voted for a bill to extend the Patriot Act for another 10 years. President Bush hailed the vote.

From the playground's biggest tree's biggest branch
the hawk through daylight drops to the monkeybars
top deck, claws sunk in plunder. The hawk
shakes its gray-brown feathers, leans, with its beak
unzips the little squirrel suit, probes into the hot mess.
Nothing bothers it. The raincoated tourist grabs
his wife's wrist knobs, gabbles a strange language,
transfixed by the bird, and the scaly foot closes down.
A mom clamps her hand over the eyes of her kid,
his face so small her hand covers it. She hustles him
bellowing away; he wrenches at her fingers,
will break them, will, if he can, to see. Watchers
gasp, groan, video. "I love this," a man whispers,
hands in his suit pockets. "I'm a hunter but I never
get to hunt anymore, so I love this!" The hawk
from the carcass extracts a bit of bloody intestine.
Flips it long, thin, looplike, over his beak. A gewgaw.
Tilts, eats. Gets another. Loops and eats again.

My Brother is Getting Arrested Again (Pitt Poetry Series)

Elizabeth Spires

[from Elizabeth Spires's "Falling Away" in Annonciade, 1989]

The early morning snowfall has put all of us in a dreamy, slow-motion mood, everyone, that is, except for our teacher, a study in black and white, dressed in a heavy black habit and black veil, white wimple, collar, and bib. A crucifix hangs from a black rope belt knotted around her waist; she has told us that if she holds it and sincerely repents her sins at the moment of death, her soul will fly straight to heaven.

Sister M——— points outside with her long wooden pointer, the same pointer that often comes down with a crack! on the desks of unsuspecting daydreamers, bringing them back to this world with a start. Outside, each snowflake is lost in the indistinguishable downward spiral of the heavy snowfall. The voice that is not a voice comes back, her voice, imagined, reconstructed from memory: How many souls in hell? More than all the snowflakes that are falling today, yesterday, tomorrow. I try to imagine a number that large, an infinite number, and cannot. Then I try to follow the path of one individual snowflake in its slow, yet inevitable, drifting descent, but lose it in the swirling pattern of white against white.

The lesson continues: How long will those lost souls pay for their sins? For all eternity. Eternity. How can we, at eleven years old, she must be thinking, possibly be able to conceive of just how long eternity is? Imagine the largest mountain in the world, made of solid rock. Once every hundred years, a bird flies past, the tip of its wing brushing lightly against the mountaintop. Eternity is as long as it would take for the bird's wing to wear the mountain down to nothing.

Ever after, I connect hell and eternity not with fire and flames, but with something cold and unchanging, a snowy tundra overshadowed by a huge granite mountain that casts a pall over the landscape. Like the North or South Pole in midsummer, the sun would circle overhead in a crazy loop, day passing into day without intervening night, each object nakedly illuminated, etched sharply in light and shadow, unable to retreat into night's invisibility. If I were unlucky, I'd be there one day, for forever, dressed in my white communion dress, white anklets, and black patent leather shoes.

Annonciade (Poets, Penguin)

20 February 2008

Marvin Bell

[from Marvin Bell's Mars Being Red, 2007]

Days of Superman

He can't help it about umbrellas, you'd think
they were rubberized splatters but to him are
spring-loaded popguns that shoot the rain.
This is childhood when an egg's so perfect,
so ideal, you have to crack it, and a milk bottle
is as full of feeling as mother's dress. He's a yarn
to relate of a rake and a leaf pile, of the circular
mysteries of a desk globe, how the Popsicle
man's wagon rang the day, and once a knife
sprang from its sheath and frightened the air.
He saw himself a coal, on its way to glass
or diamond, and his purple thumb his favorite
because the handsome hammer had chosen it.

Mars Being Red

19 February 2008

David Leavitt

David Leavitt's recent novel, The Indian Clerk, is long, mathematical, and splendid.

17 February 2008

Michael Ondaatje

[from Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter, 1976]

I take off and wail long notes jerking the squawk into the end of them to form a new beat, have to trust them all as I close my eyes, know the others are silent, throw the notes off the walls of people, the iron lines, so pure and sure bringing the howl down to the floor and letting in the light and the girl is alone now mirroring my throat in her lonely tired dance, the street silent but for us her tired breath I can hear for she's near me as I go round and round in the centre of the Liberty-Iberville connect. Then silent. For something's fallen in my body and I can't hear the music as I play it. The notes more often now. She hitting each note with her body before it is even out so I know what I do through her. God this is what I wanted to play for, if no one else I always guessed there would be this, this mirror somewhere, she closer to me now and her eyes over mine tough and young and come from god knows where. Never seen her before but testing me taunting me to make it past her, old hero, old ego tested against one as cold and pure as himself, this tall bitch breasts jumping loose under the light shirt she wears that's wet from energy and me fixing them with the aimed horn tracing up to the throat. Half dead, can't take more, hardly hit the squawks anymore but when I do my body flicks at them as if I'm the dancer till the music is out there. Roar. It comes back now, so I can hear only in waves now and then, god the heat in the air, she is sliding round and round her thin hands snake up through her hair and do their own dance and she is seven foot tall with them and I aim at them to bring them down to my body and the music gets caught in her hair, this is what I wanted, always, loss of privacy in the playing, leaving the stage, the rectangle of band on the street, this hearer who can throw me in the direction and the speed she wishes like an angry shadow.

Coming Through Slaughter

16 February 2008

reading on Pawley's Island

I will read poems from my chapbook, Muddy Prints, Water Shine, and newer work at the Waccamaw Center for Higher Education, 160 Willbrook Boulevard, Pawley's Island, SC, on March 27, 2008 at 3 PM as part of the Tea and Poetry Series. The event is free to the public. Call 843-349-4032 for further information.

15 February 2008

George Seferis

[from George Seferis, Collected Poems, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, 1995]

The Cats of Saint Nicholas

       But deep inside me sings
       the Fury's lyreless threnody;
       my heart, self-taught, has lost
       the precious confidence of hope . . .
                            Aeschylus, "Agamemnon"

'That's the Cape of Cats ahead,' the captain said to me,
pointing through the mist to a low stretch of shore,
the beach deserted; it was Christmas day —
'. . . and there, in the distance to the west, is where
Aphrodite rose out of the waves;
they call the place "Greek's Rock."
Left ten degrees rudder!'
She had Salome's eyes, the cat I lost a year ago;
and old Ramazan, how he would look death square in the eyes,
whole days long in the snow of the East,
under the frozen sun,
days long square in the eyes: the young hearth god.
Don't stop, traveller.
'Left ten degrees rudder,' muttered the helmsman.

. . . my friend, though, might well have stopped,
now between ships,
shut up in a small house with pictures,
searching for windows behind the frames.
The ship's bell struck
like a coin from some vanished city
that brings to mind, as it falls,
alms from another time.
'It's strange,' the captain said.
'That bell — given what day it is —
reminded me of another, the monastery bell.
A monk told me the story,
a half-mad monk, a kind of dreamer.

'It was during the great drought,
forty years without rain,
the whole island devastated,
people died and snakes were born.
This cape had millions of snakes
thick as a man's legs
and full of poison.
In those days the monastery of St Nicholas
was held by the monks of St Basil,
and they couldn't work their fields,
couldn't put their flocks to pasture.
In the end they were saved by the cats they raised.
Every day at dawn a bell would strike
and an army of cats would move into battle.
They'd fight the day long,
until the bell sounded for the evening feed.
Supper done, the bell would sound again
and out they'd go to battle through the night.
They say it was a marvellous sight to see them,
some lame, some blind, others missing
a nose, an ear, their hides in shreds.
So to the sound of four bells a day
months went by, years, season after season.
Wildly obstinate, always wounded,
they annihilated the snakes but in the end disappeared;
they just couldn't take in that much poison.
Like a sunken ship
they left no trace on the surface:
not a miaow, not a bell even.
Steady as you go!
Poor devils, what could they do,
fighting like that day and night, drinking
the poisonous blood of those snakes?
Generations of poison, centuries of poison.'
'Steady as you go,' indifferently echoed the helmsman.

                                    Wednesday, 5 February, 1969

George Seferis: Collected Poems

14 February 2008

Geoffrey Young

[from Geoffrey Young's The Riot Act, 2008; I first read Geoffrey Young's work at Ron Silliman's blog]

No Single Effort

No single effort captures the essence of the human condition. But the completion of any day's writing adds its particular brush with experience to the master list of competing versions, even if no one reads it for a thousand years.


Because the time is ripe. We are still green. I look in vain for adults. Nothing but kids on this watch. Six or seven feet tall. Hard to discipline. A good sign in growing boys? Tell me a myth I haven't heard.

The lake of the mind stores wetness. Drying up is our worst enemy. For a person in my shorts I can imagine nothing worse.

It takes a meadowlark in a field. It takes a futon in a loft.

How much time do we have. How much face. You know more than I do. Three chords worth. I've never seen such music.

Call it a self-knockout.

Will Prospero set us free?

A black line traps the image. We suffer people too much. Grainy landscape with noon train. Roll the credits.

Turning Pages

Benny "Kid" Peret fluttered
against the ropes
like a titmouse beating his wings in cream
while Emile Griffith the Donatello of the Hotel Champion

pummeled the Kid with smashed potatoes and fireball
jabs, and we leaped off the king-size bed
yelling "Stop it! Stop the fight! He's out on his feet"
to the referee who didn't see it

as Griffith's fists loosened the head
of the Kid from its spinal axis until
finally the leather that was shaping it
could have been fingers turning

pages of a windblown book
no one will ever read again.

Riot Act

13 February 2008

Muddy Prints, Water Shine

You can pre-order my chapbook, Muddy Prints, Water Shine from Finishing Line Press. Free shipping until 03/28/08.

10 February 2008


Thank you DIY Poetry Publishing Collective for this link to Dusie issue 7, which contains 60 electronic chapbooks.

09 February 2008

Fanny Howe

[the final section of "Forty Days" from Fanny Howe's The Lyrics, 2007]


Call out.
Press nine.

I will hear some shift of gray in the air.
Will ingest the frost of its silence.

A six-foot bed
And a sprawler's sigh through the wall

Of this fifty-pound hotel
Occupied by the dropped.

Call out, no call back.

Fall fast forward without will
To the window.

The other world is pressed
Against the glass:

A kind of heaven, a known nothing.

Call out to the cone-opening light
To colors never seen before

But most familiar.

Call out of the grit in your tissue
Before your days are written

Or you will be too late for the answer.

Be really primitive.
A thin finger picture

Of nature undernurtured.

Like egg, parchment, glue and the breath of the artist.

Call come in at last

When or where
A message from that.

I will be packed into people
Against a strange tin.

Vehicles will glitter
And polyphony the interrupter

Will cut every sentence in half.

Call I won't call back.
Call up into the night.

"Knower, how is this voice different from the others?"

The Lyrics: Poems

07 February 2008

Alice Friman

At 7 PM on Friday February 8 Alice Friman will read at the Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston for the Poetry Society of South Carolina.

The poem below was my knock-you-back introduction to Alice.

[from The Gettysburg Review, Summer 2004]


Life isn't long enough
to learn the patience necessary.
Pitted against desire, what's so hot about
counting to ten? Think salmon — the fight,
the desperate fling
                           against the bear's
swipe and the knock-you-back water.
In the face of need, let's face it,
patience is luxury. Even Beauty,
sensible, yes, but come first thaw
she too is cruising for the hook.
No lure, no worm, no hand-tied fly
but whooped up already, ready to thrash
gasping in the bilge of any boat.
                                             One ogle,
one polished line, one invitation into
the tangoed dark, and there it is — the red
slam-dunk of the heart, that timpani
in the chest counting out
the clarinet's twiddle and each thin
thought of the violin, wanting only
the great drama it was tightened up for.
The big BIM BAM.
                         Listen, the heart
wants what it wants. There's no telling
it different. Look out the window.
The curtain rises, and stage left — see?
Spring enters singing forsythia, that aria
of yellow, that operatic bush.

03 February 2008

Miroslav Holub

[from Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers edited by Charles Simic and Mark Strand, 1985]

Suffering [excerpt]

But I ask no questions,
       no one asks any questions,
Because it's all quite useless,
Experiments succeed and experiments fail,
Like everything else in this world,
       in which truth advances
       like some splendid silver bulldozer
       in the tumbling darkness

Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers

02 February 2008

Ralph Waldo Emerson

[from Ralph Waldo Emerson's journal, July 21, 1837]

Courage consists in the conviction that they with whom you contend are no more than you. If we believed in the existence of strict individuals, natures, that is, not radically identical but unknown, immeasurable, we should never dare to fight.

Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1836-1838: With Annotations

01 February 2008

Dante Alighieri

[from Canto V of Dante Alighieri's Purgatorio, translated by Jean and Robert Hollander]

"Perché l'animo tuo tanto s'impiglia?"
disse 'l maestro, "che l'andare allenti?
che ti fa ciò che quivi si pispiglia?

Vien dientro a me, e lascia dir le genti:
sta come torre ferma, che no crolla
già mai la cima per soffiar di venti;

ché sempre l'omo in cui pensier rampolla
sovra pensier, da sé dilunga il segno,
perché la foga l'un de l'altro insolla."

Che potea io ridir, se non "Io vegno"?

'Is your mind so distracted,' asked the master,
'that you have slowed your pace?
Why do you care what they are whispering?

'Just follow me and let the people talk.
Be more like a sturdy tower
that does not tremble in the fiercest wind.

'For any man who lets one thought --
and then another -- take him over
will soon lose track of his first goal.'

What could I answer but 'I come?'