26 October 2006

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

A Natural History of Balloons

Flown scraps,
foiled swells,
so much sampled
tide-scrim. This was
once a bright
clown singing
to a child ducking

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25 October 2006

Robert Graves

[from Robert Graves's Collected Poems]

The Face in the Mirror

Grey haunted eyes, absent-mindedly glaring
From wide, uneven orbits; one brow drooping
Somewhat over the eye
Because of a missile fragment still inhering,
Skin-deep, as a foolish record of old-world fighting.

Crookedly broken nose — low tackling caused it;
Cheeks, furrowed; coarse grey hair, flying frenetic;
Forehead, wrinkled and high;
Jowls, prominent; ears, large; jaw, pugilistic;
Teeth, few; lips, full and ruddy; mouth, ascetic.

I pause with razor poised, scowling derision
At the mirrored man whose beard needs my attention,
And once more ask him why
He still stands ready, with a boy’s presumption,
To court the queen in her high silk pavilion.

24 October 2006

James Merrill

[from James Merrill's Water Street, 1962]

The Midnight Snack

When I was little and he was riled
It never entered my father’s head
Not to flare up, roar and turn red.
Mother kept cool and smiled.

Now every night I tiptoe straight
Through my darkened kitchen for
The refrigerator door —
It opens, the inviolate!

Illumined as in dreams I take
A glass of milk, a piece of cake,
Then stealthily retire,

Mindful of how the gas-stove’s black-
Browed pilot eye’s blue fire
Burns into my turned back.

James Merrill

[from On “Y├ínnina”: An Interview with David Kalstone from Collected Prose by James Merrill]

You hardly ever need to state your feelings. The point is to feel and keep the eyes open. Then what you feel is expressed, is mimed back at you by the scene. A room, a landscape. I'd go a step further. We don’t know what we feel until we see it distanced by this kind of translation.

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]


Next to a Carolina highway,
face ringed like an owl’s in white feathers,
the northern harrier stands in the gusts of September.
Dark wings, down-turned beak, staring eyes,
a folded tail, speckled thighs.

The drivers are blind
to the pale bib concealing
the span of muscles tied to a breastbone’s keel,
muscles quiet, resting toward the moment
when the bird flies.

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23 October 2006

D. A. Powell

[from Kevin Prufer's The New Young American Poets]

[darling can you kill me: with your mickeymouse pillows]

darling can you kill me: with your mickeymouse pillows
when I'm a meager man. with your exhaust and hose

could you put me out: when I'm a mite a splinter a grain
a tatter a snip a sliver a whit a tittle. habited by pain

would you bop me on the noggin: with a two by four
the trifle of me pissing myself. slobbering infantile: or

wheezing in an oxygen tent. won't you shut off the tank
mightn't you disconnect the plug: give the cord a proper yank

when I lose the feeling in my legs. when my hands won't grip
and I'm a thread a reed a wrack a ruin: of clap and flux and grippe

with your smack connections could you dose me. as I start my decline
would you put a bullet through me. angel: no light left that is mine

22 October 2006

Timothy Liu

[from Kevin Prufer's The New Young American Poets]

Ariel Singing

It is not happiness. Not the man standing
in line waiting to show me his poppies
and doves. Not a vase or an empty cage
he leaves when the magic act is over.
It is sleeping for a long time, the rest
of the world standing in a broken line.
Or waking without new flowers flaming
into this world. It is a world without song
I flew right into. In the glass I saw
one soul, not two colliding into one.
Nothing shattered. What is fragile came after,
time to kill. We love badly. Do you see
how we lie awake, always hungry in bed?
The priests continue to hold out their fast
offerings to the weak. Amen. Teach me
how to sing in a grove of olive trees,
to fall like a sparrow. It is all I want.

21 October 2006

Joy Katz

[from Kevin Prufer's The New Young American Poets]

Women Must Put Off Their Rich Apparel

Women must put off their rich apparel;
at midday they must disrobe.

Apart from men are the folds of sleep,
daylight's frank remarks: the skin

of the eye, softening, softening.
Women must put on plainness,

the sweet set of the mouth's line;
the body must surface, the light,

the muscled indifference of deer.
A woman must let love recede,

the carved-out ribs sleep,
the vessel marked in bird lines

empty, as the sea empties her.
Say the sea, sound of leaves, the old

devotion, the call and response.
Reeds, caves, shoulders of cypress,

the woman who at this moment
does not need the world.

20 October 2006

Sean Lysaght

I've been in Ireland for a week -- Moate, Athlone, Galway, Sligo, New Grange, Westport, Clonmacnoise -- the green and ruminants, water and birds and sky of it.

[from Sean Lysaght's The Clare Island Survey, 1991]


Took my eye into the air of himself
and threaded it,

sewing me to the sky
with his looped cycle of flight

up the gully,
then traced a noose

around a lowland belfry
and now, in the suburbs,

can needle a spot
above the apex of a gable,

draw the skein
in circles widening out,

and glide back
to the eye of his obsession.

Immanuel Mifsud

[from Poetry Ireland Review #85]

The Mad People

In the electronic age every nutcase
with a laptop is writing a masterpiece.
They spend their nights locked up in chat rooms
and emerge with red eyes and love poems.

    Confidential Reports, Southword Editions, 2005,
    translated from the Maltese by Maurice Riordan

10 October 2006

Martha Collins

[from Martha Collins’s Blue Front, 2006]

keep your day bright
by thinking right


sheets napkins bleached bread keep
your day bright by thinking pure
thought no body in it back before
bodies mouths and after all is clean
again fountains washed as snow brides
before or angels out of time who have
no bodies under if a lie intended not
to mean without words or print making
no mistake must be kept clean but color
crept into their cheeks were never free
from absent could be seen as blanched
deficient weakly colored bloodless blank
needing contrast to be seen at all against

Kwame Dawes

[from Kwame Dawes’s Wisteria, 2006]

God Don’t Like Ugly

They say God don’t like ugly,
and those who make ugly pretty,
they are the angels of God.
Those who can take a shack,

a low down hole with a roof,
and make you want to cry
for the smell of Mama’s cooking
the love of days following days

like a sweet-loved baby girl
not fretting about nothing at all,
they are the angels of God.
Those who make ugly pretty.

So I ride through the low country,
day in day out, to the coast, holding
back the waves of sleeping creeping up
my legs, like how death comes,

just to learn to make something
prettier than what it was.
Around here, in Sumter County,
we’ve got two kinds of angels:

them that make the dead smile
with powders, creams, lotions,
resting in peace there, prettier than
they ever was when walking this earth;

and them that take complaining hair,
dry back of the hand, facial skin,
and make that pretty as morning,
pretty as a poem there in the salon.

They are the angels of God,
for God don’t like ugly at all.
Here in Sumter County, two things are sure,
folks will die their ugly deaths

and women lapping up the magazines
won’t ever feel pretty enough for love.
Me, I am too scared of the cold flesh
that don’t give back, don’t move,

so I caress the women’s jowls,
till all they can do is smile
call me angel of the Lord
’cause God don’t like ugly.

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]


The hermit crab
is wearing
a snail’s shell.

legs flank
the pincers,

antennae weaving,
eye stalks,
domed medallion.

A pen forages
inside the shell,
frees a tail

that coils
around the ballpoint tip
— is inked.

Emptied shell.
Spilled being.

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09 October 2006

John Haines

[from John Haines’s For the Century’s End: Poems 1990-1999]

excerpted from “In the House of Wax”


In all these wax memorials
only appearance changes.

Crowned heads and axes fall,
thugs and jailors rise
and displace each other
in this long, uneasy walk
we have littered
with claims and captions.

The heroes are always welcomed,
are propped and shaven,
their ruddy male composure
is sleeker than ever,
though the great sleeves
and brutal collars
give way to softer buttons.

The paper in official hands
rustles as before,
though it is only paper,
paper in cheap supply,
and not the bleached fell
of a difficult sheep.

And yet the neat persuasions
are seen to tighten,
and each new litigation
is a running noose . . .

All that increases,
all that gluts and fattens,
matures its option here:
Honor to thieves and merchants,
long life to the butcher.

And for the just petitioner —
sweeper of hallways, scapegoat
and discard — no reply
but the rote of legal fictions;

to which he listens, now
as in the days of Pontius,
stricken with understanding.

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]


I asked for a photo of fetuses
inside the uterus
of the pig you shot.

A rabbit uterus is shaped like a Y,
pink ribbons that rinse from the body’s trough
along with the rest of the workings.
Inside an old breeder,
knots along the Y-arms
record the history of fetuses.

Nose to tail, first one, then the next
slack kit pulses through Y-stem to air;
the doe bites the cord, licks the ribcage
to kickstart breath. I’ve stroked spasm
into lungs for a kit that needed it.

Those not quite piglets you tossed
to compost’s stink and flies,
I wanted to trace the shape (pear
or Y), to measure the heat
and ebb of colors, to slow
the pace of their hearts leaving.

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08 October 2006

John Clare

[untitled poem from John Clare's bird poems]

In the hedge I pass a little nest
Green morning after morning
Where the old ones scared at every guest
Cheeped loud a danger warning
But the young ones cree’d at every tread
Nor knew of danger near
They quivering hold up many a head
At all that passes near

The awbush round their dwelling hings
Which morn with dropples strinkles
That wets the old birds eager wings
While the brook at bottom tinkles
A constant guardian running past
Sweet youngs cease your cheeping
For many a clown goes whistling past
When ye’re unconscious sleeping

The old ones on a distant bough
With victuals in her bill
Waits back to see me passing now
And tweets in fear of ill
But soon as bye she hurrys in
They twitter caw and cree
The laughing brook won’t let me win
A peep to reach and see

Right pleasant brook Im glad ye lie
Between them and the road
They’re not all friends that wander bye
And faith is ill bestowed
Hid from the world their green retreat
The worlds ways never knew
But much I fear they’d quickly meet
Its cares if in its view

I’ve past the nest so often bye
They seem my neighbours now
And I’d be glad to see ’em flye
And cheep upon the bough
The worlds way is a cheating way
And it would not be long
Before they met a cloudy day
And some to do em wrong

Though I have not gone half the ways
That many have to go
Nor met with half the swaily days
That many troubles know
Yet chuse not haunts that many know
Though many much pretend
For ye are sure to find a foe
Where many pass for friends

a final solution

[from an unsigned essay titled "Conservation" in the November, 1939 issue of Nature Magazine]

We belive that if we could take the leaders of this present world conflict to a high alpine meadow in Glacier National Park, for example, far from the highways and all the other refinements of our vaunted civilization, and there talk and climb, watch the mountain goat on his crag and the bear in his wanderings, the story might well be different. If there, together, they could breathe the pure air of the outdoors and not the fetid atmosphere of pub, bistro or beer hall, and sleep beneath stars undimmed by city lights, we believe that hatreds might be dissolved, and not intensified in defiance of all that is natural.

07 October 2006

Carol Peters

I spent part of the day in an excellent haiku workshop with Dave Russo. We walked in light rain through San-Lee Park in search of material. I found this:

The gray squirrel
burying his acorn
stops to eat it

Carol Peters

Protected Species

The bird's a cuckoo, yellow-billed, and dead.
Your first sight of a rare breed. Why leave it behind?
Why not preserve the specimen instead?

The migratory legislation you’ve read
deems it unlawful to take a bird of this kind:
no yellow-billed cuckoos, even if dead.

You bring it home to freeze with wings spread,
study taxidermy, are startled to find
specimens aren’t preserved but plaster instead.

Skinning is hard, especially the wings and head
until you chop them off. It doesn't mind,
this illegal cuckoo, yellow-billed, and dead.

You dip the parts in slurry, bake them like bread,
fill the castings with foam before you bind
feathers to this incriminating specimen instead

of preserving it. These rips repaired with thread,
these wings in flight, eyes no longer blind.
This bird's a cuckoo, yellow-billed, not dead:
you’ve sung the specimen to life instead.

06 October 2006

more on Gwendolyn Brooks

Poet Jilly Dybka has linked to my earlier post and offers a link to Annette Debo's thoughtful reading of Brooks's work, e.g.:

Too often Brooks's poetry is divided into discrete sections rather than considered a continually developing, cohesive body of work. Most frequently, her early poetry, with its intense experimentation in traditional poetic forms, is the material anthologized and critically explored, and her poetry written after 1967, a line Brooks herself drew and critics reinforced, is neglected. However, there are also critics who prefer her later poetry and who call the early poetry "traditional," "accommodationist," or "white" (Clark 85). In contrast, as I read Brooks's early poetry, I find that it, like her later poetry, responds to what she sees happening in the arts and in politics--it is all politically informed. (4) Like the poems of Langston Hughes, Brooks's work evolves, and her interest in the connection between race and violence is clear both before and after 1967, as is her continual experimentation with form. Her poetry develops; it does not suddenly become "black" after the Fisk Conference, nor does the latter half of her work lack integrity by becoming too simplistic in its form.

05 October 2006

Gwendolyn Brooks

This quote from Danielle Chapman's essay about Gwendolyn Brooks in the October, 2006 issue of Poetry:

The most striking difference from the early work is not the politics, but how simultaneously personal and public Brooks's work became. She was writing poems that were meant to be heard, felt, and loved immediately. Often it feels as if the self—that vain, pandering child-star that lives inside every poet, whom Brooks admirably repressed for most of her career—has risen up with a vengeance, demanding to be heard and adored. Too often these poems are padded with the applause-ready line; too often they wallow in sentimentality; too often they sound like Keziah's daughter—a woman who'd once called herself "impossibly prim"—basking in the admiration of cats cooler than she. To hear a poet as temperamentally prone to rigor and precision as Brooks adopting the hip languor used by Haki Madhubuti and Sonia Sanchez screams mid-life crisis.

In human terms, Brooks's sudden abandon, her ability to love her community and to fight for it, feels like a triumph. No one should begrudge her the affection and popularity she enjoyed late in life, and no one should dismiss the effect of her activism on real-life events. Yet there was a trade-off: Brooks abandoned her discipline in order to be beloved and successful; as a result, very little of that love or success found its way into her own distinctive idiom. One can't help but rue the portraits of fiery clarity that Brooks might have created if she'd expressed her newly radicalized beliefs in the clear, conversational form that she'd spent her whole life mastering.

These paragraphs disturb me.

Is the self by definition a vain, pandering child-star that lives inside every poet? Must a poet repress that self in order to write good poetry?

Are Madhubuti and Sanchez to be dismissed so lightly?

Did Brooks change her poetry in order to be beloved and successful or because she changed politically and artistically? Does Chapman believe that Brooks's distinctive idiom should have stalled instead of changing as Brooks changed?

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

Night Wakes Me

I hear the stream’s
dark roar.

Every window wide
and still no rain.

The breeze blows chill
across my limbs.

Inside, the beating
of my same old heart.

I look for a star,
see two more.

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04 October 2006

Jon Anderson

[from Jon Anderson's The Milky Way: Poems 1967-1982]

John Clare

I know there is a worm in the human heart,
In its wake such emptiness as sleep should require.

Toward dawn, there was an undirected light the color of steel;
The aspens, thin, vaguely parallel strips of slate,
Blew across each other in that light.
                                                      I went out
Having all night suffered in my confusion, &
Was quieted by this.
                                         But the earth
Vegetable rock or water that had been our salvation
Is mostly passed now, into the keeping of John Clare,
           whose poetry simplified us—we owe the world ourselves—
Who, dead or sleeping, now reads the detail leaf & stone
Passing, until it will finally be memorized & done.

I know that the heart can be hard, & from this
Misgiving about itself, will make a man merciless.
I know that John Clare’s madness nature could not straighten.

If there is a worm in the heart, & chamber it has bitten out,
I will protect that emptiness until it is large enough.
In it will be a light the color of steel
& landscape, into which the traveler might set out.

02 October 2006

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

The Hose

Coupled lengths of yellow hose
run from a bleeder valve through the rainforest
across meadows into the emptying duck pond
where guppies and rainbow speartails swarm
to breathe in oxygen routed from a mountain stream.
Whoever rides the mower stays to one side
or the other of the cobbled-together drip feed.
Bright colors, then a weedy stripe remind
the mower where the hose lies. After the rains come
we dismantle the plumbing, the pond floods
the low patches, grass grows high, ducks sit nests
in bogs — we rescue three hatchlings. Finally one day
the mowing resumes in the old circular pattern
skirting the edge of the woods where yellow snakes
rise in coils, multiply, stream
between the blades.

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01 October 2006

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]


The child first sees his great-grandmother
hunched in a kitchen chair, her head balding,
a black patch covering one eye.
She turns toward him, opens the other eye
and makes a sound like a bird whistling.

At dinnertime she wears black sunglasses,
drags a spoon across a plate without looking,
raises the mush to her cheek where the food spills
and makes her laugh — a high bleating sound —
until everyone at the table is laughing.

After he brushes his teeth he stands at her chair
for the one eye to open out of the lizard skin
and he kisses her cheek and hears a sound
from her mouth like rocks making a landslide.

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