30 May 2006

William Carlos Williams

[excerpt from "Tract"]

I will teach you my townspeople
how to perform a funeral . . .

Walk behind—as they do in France,
seventh class, or if you ride
Hell take curtains! Go with some show
of inconvenience; sit openly—
to the weather as to grief.
Or do you think you can shut grief in?
What—from us? We who have perhaps
nothing to lose? Share with us
share with us—it will be money
in your pockets.
                        Go now
I think you are ready.

John Canaday

[from John Canaday's The Invisible World]

A Fast of God’s Choosing

        For ye have brought us forth into this wilderness,
        to kill this whole assembly with hunger.

               — Exodus 16:3

Past one and still no vendor’s cart in sight,
no minimarts here on the Freedom Trail.
My hollow belly moans a kind of song,
like the west wind whistling hosannas
under the vault of the Old South Meeting House:

“When hunger sucks the marrow from your bones,
whittle an octave’s worth of fingering
along your fibula and then your soul
will pipe a song to make you weep for God.
And though tears linger on the desert of your lips,
resist their salty frankness, for it masks
a deeper thirst than you should care to know.
No, do not speak. Words speak of damnable
conceit. Which of us knows God’s ways? Your lips
should crack with thirst before you fold your breath
in speech. Thank God when he humiliates
your flesh beyond the compass of mere words.
A plump blackberry like a ripe bon mot
could spell damnation if it made you think
the fullness of a summer afternoon
meant jack. The scent of summer honeysuckle
blinds us to an everlasting emptiness
that mortal hunger only echoes. Praise
God for the deserts, famines, droughts with which
he seasons us when we wax fit. And bless
these vacant words as well. Inhabit them.”

19 May 2006

Alice Friman

[from Alice Friman's The Book of the Rotten Daughter]

After Shooting the Barbados Ram

Because his neighbor’s boy wanted the horns
he whacked off the top of the head
straight across
leaving the brain in the grass—
two tablespoons of squiggle
and the brain pan
lined in ivory, empty except for the flies.

I watch because I must,
not because my grinning brother-in-law
waving his bloody knife
shoves the scene in my face—the ram
strung up by the hind legs
then slit down the middle, the insides
tumbling out into a tub. The one
undescended testicle, knuckle big
and hard as love,
flushed from its hiding place at last.
The body, the hide, adding up to nothing
but a magician’s coat emptied of its tricks.
Any two-bit fly buzzy in emerald
is more than this.

But it’s the brain I come back to,
separated from the white fibrous fingers
that cradled it, suspended it
easy in a jelly. The Dura Mater.
The enduring mother, holding—
idiot or saint—whatever she’s got.
Mama the dependable, tough as bungee straps
or a stevedore’s net, hanging on
to her freight until the final dock.

I kneel in the grass,
run my fingers over the brain’s empty casing,
think of my father, gone not even a month.
A meningioma, they said. A thickening
of the outer lining. The Dura Mater.
The tough mother who never quits—
who quit. Took up weaving in her boredom,
knitting her own cells into a pile of pillows
then turned, the way milk turns,
the way any mother left alone in the dark
might turn, a pillow in her hands.

They said it was slow growing, decades maybe,
but now, having reached the pons, the bulb
at the base of the brain—.
Look, they said, how the brain struggles
in a narrowed, pinched-in space, rummages
for what it can no longer remember:
the old triggers fired off easy as pop-guns
for ninety years—pump, pump, breathe.

I kneel over the ram’s motherless brain
the way I bent over him, holding the hand
that for sixty-two years refused mine,
singing the song he never sang for me.
The crusted mouth. The lolling tongue.
The eyes unable to close
because the brain had forgotten how.
The breath still so sweet.

18 May 2006

Sarah Maclay and Linda Bierds

[from Field, Number 69, Spring 2003]

The Marina, Early Evening
by Sarah Maclay

The sea is only a blue band,
reaching over its brother.
The sand is only a hard, brown sea.

Gulls open their beaks and nothing comes out.
One. Another. Three. The sea

is only a low cloud
wandering under its sister.
The cloud is only a high, gray sea.

The gulls seem to be praying.
They stand as still as a chess set.

Waves crawl onto the body, slither back.

Oh, the woman with red hair,
legs tall as stilts,
sings into the ocean.

Her song is only the mirror
of the broken wave.

Time and Space
by Linda Bierds

Deep space. The oblong, twinkleless stars
matte as wax pears. And the astronauts are losing heart,
the heady lisp of auricle and ventricle
fading to a whisper, as muscles shrink to infants’ hearts,
or the plum-shaped nubs of swans.
Atrophy, from time in space, even as the space in time
contracts. And how much safer it was —
ascension — at some earlier contraction, each flyer intact,

cupped by a room-size celestial globe
staked to a palace lawn. How much easier, to duck
with the doublets and powdered wigs
through the flap of a trap door and watch on a soot-stained
copper sky the painted constellations, or,
dead-center, a fist of shadowed earth dangling from a ribbon.

All systems go, of course: each moist,
diminishing heart, just sufficient at its terminus to fuel
the arm, the opening hand, to coax
to the lips a fig or pleated straw. Still, how much easier
to drift in a hollow globe, its perpetual
tallow-lit night, while outside with the mazes and spaniels

the day, like an onion, arced up in layers
to the dark heavens. How much safer to enter a time, a space,
when a swan might lift from a palace pond
to cross for an instant — above, below — its outstretched
Cygnus shape, just a membrane
and membrane away. A space in time when such accident
was prophecy, and such singular alignment —
carbon, shadow, membrane, flight — sufficient for the moment.

16 May 2006

Laurie Sheck

[from Laurie Sheck's Amaranth]


In my brothers’ arms I was lifted to be tossed in the water,
not to die but to be saved through disappearance.

I thought I heard them calling after me,
my absence would allow them to go on.

Because I no longer need to be touched
I deny them nothing, I watch them when they sleep

and keep them safe.
Sometimes I see their faces pressed into the water’s ceiling,

looking down and down as if to call me back.
Mostly I watch these walls.

Where my brothers live the houses hold their single pose,
the sky is luminous as snakeskin.

So often they find themselves walking near water—
that box planed smooth by sunlight.

15 May 2006

Carl Phillips

[from Carl Phillips's Riding Westward]


There’s a meadow I can’t stop coming back to, any
more than I can stop calling it a sacred grove—isn’t
that was it was, once? A lot of resonance, trees asway
with declarations whose traced-on-the-air patterns
the grasses also traced, more subtly, below. As for
strangers: yes, and often, and—with few exceptions—
each desperate either to win back some kingdom he’d
lost, or to be, if only briefly, for once free of one. I did
what I could for them. They did—what they did . . . It was
as if we were rescuable, and worth rescuing, both, and
the gods had noticed this—it was as if there were gods—
and the sky meanwhile crowning every part of it, blue,
a blue crown . . . There’s a meadow I still go back to. It’s
just a meadow—with, sometimes, a stranger, passing
through, the occasional tenderness, a hand to my chest,
resting there, making me almost want to touch something,
someone back. I can feel all the wrecked birds—lying
huddled, slow-hearted, like so many stunned psalms,
against each other—start to stir inside me, their bits of
song giving way again to the usual questions: Why not
stay awhile here forever?
and Isn’t this what you keep
coming for?
and Is it? I’m tired of their questions. I’m
tired, I say to them—as, with all the sluggishness at first
of doing a thing they’d forgotten how to do, or forgotten
to want to, or had only hoped to forget, they indifferently
open, spread wide their interrogative, gray wings—

14 May 2006

Emily Dickinson


I’ve dropped my Brain – My Soul is numb –
The Veins that used to run
Stop palsied – ’tis Paralysis
Done perfected on stone

Vitality is Carved and cool.
My nerve in Marble lies –
A Breathing Woman
Yesterday – Endowed with Paradise.

Not dumb – I had a sort that moved –
A Sense that smote and stirred –
Instincts for Dance – a caper part –
An Aptitude for Bird –

Who wrought Carrara in me
And chiselled all my tune
Were it a Witchcraft – were it Death –
I’ve still a chance to strain

To Being, somewhere – Motion – Breath –
Though Centuries beyond,
And every limit a Decade –
I’ll shiver, satisfied.

[from Cristianne Miller's Emily Dickinson, A Poet’s Grammar]

In poetry, meaning may lie as much in the interaction of semantic content and form as in a message that can be isolated from the poem. The more a poem calls attention to its formal elements by various foregrounding techniques, the more the reader is likely to learn about its meaning from them. If we assume as a norm language that calls no attention to its formal properties by deviating from the conventions of formal communication (that is, an utterance intended solely to communicate a message), then Dickinson’s poetry is richly deviant.

12 May 2006

Stanley Kunitz

[from Stanley Kunitz's The Collected Poems]

excerpt from Revolving Meditation

Imagination cries
That in the grand accountancy
What happens to us is false;
Imagination makes,
Out of what stuff it can,
An action fit
For a more heroic stage
Than body ever walked on.
I have learned
Trying to live
With this perjured quid of mine,
That the truth is not in the stones,
But in the architecture;
Equally, I am not deceived
By the triumph of the stuffing
Over the chair.
If I must build a church,
Though I do not really want one,
Let it be in the wilderness
Out of nothing but nail-holes.

11 May 2006

Google's endless curiosity

Discover what's interesting where at Google Trends.

the idea

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

             Wallace Stevens
             The Idea of Order at Key West

Laurie Sheck

[from Laurie Sheck's The Willow Grove]

Filming Jocasta

You must not show her face. Only the hands
where each granite planetary knuckle
slowly pales as if submerged in water, stripped down as after seizure,
those hands that now hold nothing.

And the rope: umbilical, predatory,
how it hangs so strictly from the ceiling
while her robes waft with such softness against the backdrop
of the palace walls, harsh walls. As if to say, But once
she was a child, once swaddled, innocent, even she,
the long ago and ever after faintly beating in each cell.

Then bring the camera closer, closer in,
it is important not to lie. And show how the robes are crevices
of riddled light, how innocence is touched
by fraudulence; there is no other story, other text.
No music to accompany her body. Only the slow turning of the rope.
Only that score that is no score, how silence is the voice
of damage, its taped mouth.

And her shadow on the wall, freakish curtain oddly beating
in the wind, blurred inscription of some lost intention;
let the camera hold it for a moment, then move on.
Here is the empty room, how large it is, how drafty.
And her smallness, for a moment, so pitiful within it;
the room like a mouth that can't speak, like the silence her body
has become, her body like a severed tongue.
And then let her body and the room become a city

where the hallowed laws are quiet, the gated storefronts quiet.
And all throughout the city's central district
there are rows of display cases, necklaces glittering
on velvet covered cardboard shaped like collarbones and necks.
Blue velvet, diamonds, gold. And rings lined up in rows,
hat pins poised like silver birds, white gloves
on plaster hands. City that turns and turns
on its invisible cold rope, and the shadows of the awful tapered hands.

No one has found her yet,
her body white as streetglare, the cold glow of the unbought
still poised there, waiting to be bought. Her hands frozen
as if molded, waiting. But still there is the question of her face,
the horrible purple, the messyness of crime.
The way the eyes bulge out like vats of half-spilled
paint, innards churning in the wind.
Not even eyes now, really, but the aftermath of eyes,
exploded. At least the frozen hands are whole,
as if some innocence remained within them even to the end.
But there was no innocence in the eyes.
And the hands cannot cover them.

07 May 2006

Linda Gregg

[from Linda Gregg's Chosen by the Lion]

Aphrodite and the Nature of Art

I want a net made of iron to hold
what I am. I love artifice.
Hephaestus made the net that hoisted up
his wife, Aphrodite, and her lover.
Caught them in their gleaming hardness,
all ecstasy and soft, most secret flesh.
Good, she thought, at the root of her being
as she locked her ankles around the gardenia
that she is. While the two men yelled
at each other, the women filed out of the room
full of chaos as well as shape. Their husbands
stood amazed at what they were seeing,
the wonderful fish-like economy of her lower back,
seeing the links pressed into her body's delight
and leaving the imprint rose-colored on her
pale flesh. Hair swelling through some of the gaps
as the crippled maker raised them like a masterpiece
higher in the half-light of the vast room.

06 May 2006

Paul Celan via Popov & McHugh

[from Paul Celan's glottal stop]

Proverb on the Wall

Defaced (a renovated angel ceases to be)
a head comes into its own,

the astral
with its stock of memory
lions of its thought.

05 May 2006

Gerald Barrax

[from Gerald Barrax's From a Person Sitting in Darkness]

Whose Children Are These?


Whose children are these?
Who do these children belong to?

With no power to watch over,
He looks at them, sleeping,
Exhaustion overwhelming hunger,
Barely protected with burlap from the cold
Cabin. Fear and rage make him tremble
For them; for himself, shame that he can do no more
Than die for them,
For no certain purpose. He heard about the woman,
Margaret Garner, in spite of the white folks' silence.
How she killed two of hers
To keep them from being taken back.
Killed herself after the others were taken back
Anyway. So she saved
Two. He couldn't save his Ellen and Henry.
Who do these belong to?
He doesn't dare kiss them
Now, but stands dreaming,
Willing these five back
To a place or forward to a time
He can't remember or imagine.
All he can do is find the place
He knows about. Leave now
Before dawn sets the white fields raging
And murders the North Star.


Grandsire, I kissed, blessed, chewed, and swallowed your rage
when I stood over the five you sent, warm in their beds,
and force-fed my stunned dumb soul to believe someone
owned, someone bought, someone sold at will
our children, Grandsire, I held them, I held them
as you could not, and revered that fierce mother
whose courage and whose solution I could not.
But we have not rescued them altogether.
We moved them through one dimension, from one killing
field to another on history's flat page,
1850s' slavery to 1980s' racism and murder.
Baraka has told us "They have made
this star unsafe, and this age, primitive,"
and it is so. I stood over each child sleeping
and looked at each child and wanted to know
who decides to break our hearts one by one by one.
The Greeks named it Tyche and made a goddess of chance.
Here they call it this god's "mysterious Will."
I have the children, but we have not saved them
from this primitive star, and I can't forgive.

          10 September 1985