31 December 2008

Barbara Guest

[from Barbara Guest's The Red Gaze, Wesleyan, 2005]

Freed Color

The branches are placed in a wet cloth,
clover reaches out.

They cannot locate a blue vine.
Purple fills the agenda. Red is on the plant,
the setting of a hibiscus tree.
They are warned not to linger in the purple shade.

Are these bitter colors? Are they accompanied
by rhyme to cheer them when they cross
into that land where color is rare?

They hasten to make use of freed color
who bends to no one,
who dwells in a tent like rhythm
continuously rolled.

To stop the riot of color, to hasten the quiet paucity of rhythm,
to sleep when it is time.

And doors open into a narrow surprise.
The jingle of crystal follows you everywhere,
even into the whistling corridor.

The Red Gaze (Wesleyan Poetry)

30 December 2008

Mark Haddon

[from The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, Mark Haddon, Vintage, 2006]


Horace Odes I:4

Spring and warm winds unlock the fist of winter.
Winches haul dry hulls down the beach.
The ploughman and his animals
no longer love the stable and the fire.
The frost no longer paints the fields white.

The moon is overhead. Cytherean Venus
dances with her girls. The Graces
and the spirits of the trees and rivers
stamp the earth while flaming Vulcan
tours the massive thunder-forges of the Cyclops.

It's time to decorate your oiled hair
with green myrtle or with flowers growing
from the soft earth. It's time to find a shady spot
and sacrifice a young goat to the woodland god.
Or kill a lamb if that is what he wants.

Death's sickly face appears at the doors
of shacks and palaces. Rich Sestius,
this short life makes a joke of long hopes.
Pluto's shadow hall, those ghosts
you read about in stories, and that final night

will soon be snapping at your heels.
And then you won't be throwing knuckle-bones
to win the job of drinking-master,
or ogling pretty Lycidas, who'll drive men wild
until he's big enough for girls.

The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea: Poems

29 December 2008

Sandra McPherson

[from Sandra McPherson's A Visit to Civilization, Wesleyan, 2002]

Toy Soldier
          circa 1930

With the ethereal radio man,
his spinning wheel of fine wire,
and with the disheveled wounded,
who are legion, child, you play,
but your favorite is the warrior
whose hand is raised to smite
this gong with whatever
that musical utensil is called,
that weapon against gongs
that makes metal suffer
great shudders of urgent tone.
They swamp the jittery lull.
And see: As it would not be
in the symphony, the instrument
is shingled "Gas Alarm."

And when, child, you make
believe, the small gong swinging
in the current of your breath,
you imagine the performance,
whole round quavers ebbing,
and you know you should
envision the strangling mist.
But why, when you're safe?
The soldier hasn't struck it yet.
His mask's filtering eyes
match battered tin camp cups,
let him search the mud-green
blasted battle map, sigh in
no toxin. Toxin, tocsin,
you play with the names.

He is no toy Tchaikovsky,
but a child cannot know that yet.
The instant the alarmist's
duty becomes music,
it re-composes the world.
Except it save someone,
a whole symphony's
worth of men,
it sings without the slightest
resonance of the sublime.
Is there no sorrow with a toy?
Eventually there is,
but it may take year upon year
to reach that threshold
when the child amused
into manhood will volunteer.

A Visit to Civilization (Wesleyan Poetry)

28 December 2008

Mark Strand

[from Mark Strand's Blizzard of One, Alfred A. Knopf, 1998]

A Suite of Appearances
(part III)

How it comes forward, and deposits itself like wind
In the ear which hears only the humming at first, the first
Suggestion of what is to come, how it grows out of itself,

Out of the humming because if it didn't it would die
In the graveyard of sound without being known, and then
Nothing would happen for days or weeks until something like it

Came back, a sound announcing itself as your own, a voice
That is yours, bending under the weight of desire,
Suddenly turning your language into a field unfolding

And all the while the humming can still be detected, the original
Humming before it was yours, and you lie back and hear it,
Surprised that what you are saying was something you meant,

And you think that perhaps you are not who you thought, that henceforth
Any idea of yourself must include a body surrounding a song.

Blizzard of One: Poems

25 December 2008

Miguel Angel Asturias

[from Miguel Angel Asturias's Strong Wind, tr. Gregory Rabassa, Delacorte, 1968]

They became desperate as they faced the sea. Their quadrilateral lives were broken against the infinite curve of the horizon. They felt uncomfortable outside the quadrilateral of their daily lives, living in houses which were long dovecotes raised on stilts. Up above they slept, their rooms and their extended comforts. Below, basins to wash the sweat from their clothes, because what most passed through those washbasins was the sweat of a man, of a working beast. Below too, the kitchens, and the hammocks where they spent most of their lives. And the houses matched the shape of the farms where they worked, quadrilaterals which stretched out one after the other. Their horizon was formed by those green parallelograms covered with banana trees in geometric rows set at equal distances, and the houses in the so-called yards were wooden oblongs, dovecotes that were longer than they were wide. Outside and inside their houses they lived within the same geometric figure, harmless at first, but hostile and disturbing afterward. The sea, therefore, made them desperate. Their eyes followed a line that was different from that of the quadrilaterals in which they spent their monotonous lives, a geometric monotony that was nullifying them, always between boards, sometimes between the boards of a coffin, a quadrilateral that was also longer than it was wide, and boards too with the bills they owed the storekeeper, with nothing ever left over from what they earned with their work.

. . .

The Shaman dissolved him, picked him up with the tips of his fingers, as the trembling of his breathing blended with the small moans of a little old man and took him to the cave of bats, of bats made desperate by lice and the heat, unable to fly because they were asleep. Those wind bats who keep the wind rolled up in cobwebs in the web of their wings, and which they release once every hundred years, if the Shaman does not let it be released before. The hungry lice grew fat-bellied with blood as he passed through there, buzzing like a malaria mosquito, and from their eyes there emerged circles of sliced onion, circles and circles and circles, as if a stone had been thrown into each eye. His forehead was like a toasted leather headband. The hand of the Medicine Man drew the sticky sweat off his hair so that it would not fall into his senses, which he had daubed with a compost made of mint leaves.


24 December 2008

Martha Ronk

[from Martha Ronk's Vertigo, Coffee House Press, 2007]

"I keep looking in the windows when I walk by"

When she crosses under the Gulf sign with her folded umbrella
        in the bright sun.
When she sees the limp hair of the swimmer.
When she holds her limp umbrella next to the limp dress.
Others have their morning routines, cayenne pepper in green tea,
a walk from hither to yon, repeated rituals of ruin
as if we mourn our own demise daily in the thick of it.
A book with photographs of crumbling columns,
stone facades broken into phantom bits,
an entire day given over to dust and shaking out the rain
from the spines of the umbrella, from the torn parka she put
        in the play.
I keep looking in the windows when I walk by hoping to see how
        to do it.
If I see the body I was looking for it is almost always mine.

Vertigo (National Poetry Series Books)

23 December 2008

William Blake

[from William Blake's Milton: Book the First, 1804]

The Mundane Shell, is a vast Concave Earth: an immense
Hardend shadow of all things upon our Vegetated Earth
Enlarg'd into dimension & deform'd into indefinite space,
In Twenty-Seven Heavens and all their Hells; with Chaos
And Ancient Night; & Purgatory. It is a cavernous Earth
Of labyrinthine intricacy, twenty-seven folds of opakeness
And finishes where the lark mounts; here Milton journeyed
In that Region calld Midian, among the Rocks of Horeb
For travellers from Eternity. pass outward to Satans seat,
But travellers to Eternity. pass inward to Golgonooza.

Los the Vehicular terror beheld him, & divine Enitharmon
Call'd all her daughters, Saying. Surely to unloose my bond
Is this Man come! Satan shall be unloosd upon Albion

Los heard in terror Enitharmons words: in fibrous strength
His limbs shot forth like roots of trees against the forward path
Of Milton's journey. Urizen beheld the immortal Man

And Tharmas Demon of the Waters, & Orc, who is Luvah

The Shadowy Female seeing Milton, howl'd in her lamentation
Over the Deeps. outstretching her Twenty seven Heavens over Albion

And thus the Shadowy Female howls in articulate howlings

I will lament over Milton in the lamentations of the afflicted
My Garments shall be woven of sighs & heart broken lamentations
The misery of unhappy Families shall be drawn out into its border
Wrought with the needle of dire sufferings poverty pain & woe
Along the rocky Island & thence throughout the whole Earth
There shall be the sick Father & his starving Family! there
The prisoner in the stone Dungeon & the Slave at the Mill
I will have Writings written all over it in Human Words
That every Infant that is born upon the Earth shall read
And get by rote as a hard task of a life of sixty years
I will have Kings inwoven upon it, & Councellors & Mighty Men
The Famine shall clasp it together with buckles & Clasps
And the Pestilence shall be its fringe & the War its girdle
To divide into Rahab & Tirzah that Milton may come to our tents
For I will put on the Human Form & take the Image of God
Even Pity & Humanity but my Clothing shall be Cruelty
And I will put on Holiness as a breastplate & as a helmet
And all my ornaments shall be of the gold of broken hearts
And the precious stones of anxiety & care & desperation & death
And repentance for sin & sorrow & punishment & fear
To defend me from thy terrors O Orc! my only beloved!

18 December 2008

Walter Murch

[from Michael Ondaatje's The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002]

I formulated this idea during The Conversation -- probably because we wound up taking so much away. It went from almost five hours to less than two.

As I began to eliminate things, I would have the feeling that I couldn't remove a certain scene, because it so clearly expressed what we were after. But after hesitating, I'd cut it anyway . . . forced to because of the length of the film. Then I'd have this paradoxical feeling that by taking away something I now had even more of it. It was almost biblical in its idea of abundance. How can you take away something and wind up with more of it?

The analogy I came up with was the image of a room illuminated by a bare blue lightbulb. Let's say the intention is to have "blueness" in this room, so when you walk in you see a bulb casting a blue light. And you think, This is the source of the blue, the source of all blueness. On the other hand, the lightbulb is so intense, so unshaded, that you squint. It's a harsh light. It's blue, but it's so much what it is that you have to shield yourself from it.

There are frequently scenes that are the metaphorical equivalent of that bulb. The scene is making the point so directly that you have to mentally squint. And when you think, What would happen if we got rid of that blue lightbulb, you wonder. But then were will the blue come from? Let's take it out and see. That's always the key: Let's just take it out and find out what happens.

So you unscrew the lightbulb . . . there are other sources of light in the room. And once that glaring source of light is gone, your eyes open up. The wonderful thing about vision is that when something is too intense, your irises close down to protect against it -- as when you look at the sun. But when there is less light, your eye opens up and makes more of the light that is there.

So now that the blue light is gone and the light is more even you begin to see things that are authentically blue on their own account. Whereas before, you attributed their blueness to the bulb. And the blue that remains interacts with other colours in more interesting ways rather than just being an intense blue tonality.

That's probably as far as you can go with the analogy, but it happens often in film. You wind up taking out the very thing that you thought was the sole source of an idea. And when you take it out, you see that not only is the idea still present, it's more organically related to everything else.

In Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, the one thing that is never talked about is the reason, the real reason, that Raskolnikov killed the landlady. If Dostoevsky actually explained why he killed her, everything else would be minimized and it would not be as interesting and complex. It reminds me of something my father said when people spoke about his paintings. He related it to a comment Wallace Stevens made: that the poem is not about anything at all, the poem is what it is. It's not there to illustrate a point.

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

15 December 2008

A. E. Stallings

[from Asheville Poetry Review, issue 18 volume 15 no. 1, 2008]

Garden Findings

I found beneath the tangled stems and furls
Of peppermint, a string of seven pearls,

Perfect and translucent, white as milk,
Connected by a strand like spider silk,

Eggs of a kind -- resilient to the touch --
And wondered what had left this gleaming clutch

Here on the brink of warmth, with August done.
I thought of lizards dazzled in the sun

Or brilliantly enameled snakes, and since
The autumn was already dropping hints,

I took them in, and kept them moist and warm,
And peered inside to see the future form

Cloudy in those crystal balls. The catch
Was when I watched the brood begin to hatch --

Two probing horns, then with a sort of shrug
Out silvered the liquescence of a slug,

Devourer I had fought all summer long --
And everything I'd cherished had been wrong.

Subscribe to Asheville Poetry Review.

C. D. Wright

[from C. D. Wright's Rising, Falling, Hovering, Copper Canyon, 2008]

But the son and call-him-Al actually did get back and make it to class on
Está comiendo mi coco she phoned the friend
who had picked him up at the station
who had never heard the expression she was so pleased with herself for using
from a dated phrase      This phrase is never used in Mexico her friend assured
                                                                            He is still eating my head

If you give your fears a shape      her friend suggested
you break free of them      This was before the bad diagnosis
After she is assured he is back      from the sea
she concedes      He is going to be OK      He'll make his way
Recalls a woman she met at the women's prison      the literacy teacher
(not an inmate) who had several ex-husbands under her belt
and had one son (not by the federal judge) (that husband didn't hunt)
but by the one who sold indigenous rugs      the son from that marriage
A very fastidious boy      always in the shower always changing
from one white shirt into another      she worried about him
she came in the house one day and smelled squirrel
He swerved he said but still hit it      he thought it would be a pity
to leave in the road      so he brought it home      skinned and rubbed
its still soft body down with oil and rosemary      stuck it in the broiler

He'll be OK      she thought      this fastidious son      He'll make his way

During the time she knew he was on a bus      without a wallet      she knew
     this much
because he left a message on her machine      hurtling as Mexican buses tend
     to go
she could only say      Está comiendo mi coco      He is eating my head
                                                                                             He was gone

Rising, Falling, Hovering

13 December 2008

Fady Joudah

[from Fady Joudah's The Earth in the Attic, Yale, 2008]

Morning Ritual

Every morning, after the roosters
Crow back whatever prayers were passed
Down to them that dawn
From the keeper of their order up in heaven,

I drink my coffee
To the sound of squealing pigs
Being bled to death
In the market up the road -- the same market

Where I buy my fresh bread
For my peanut butter and jam. The pigs
Are bled through an armpit wound.
You can see it coming throughout the day before,

Hogs tied sideways to the backs of bicycles,
Tight as a spine, going as far as the border
Where the price is right. You will pass them
On the asphalt to the town I get

The peanut butter and jam from. They know
The bikeways out of nowhere
And suddnely they're alongside your jeep.
I lie: only goats are taken to the border.

The goats are bled differently,
And skinning is harmless after slaughter:
All you do is a vertical skin-slit
Between the shinbone and Achilles tendon,

Stick a thin metal rod
Through it, up the thigh, pull it out
Then blow, mouth to hole, mouth to hole,
Until your breath dehisces

Fascia and dermis, reaching the belly:
Your hands
Should even out the trapped air.
Between blowing and tapping

The animal is tight as a drum.
Now the knife that slit the throat.
Who knows
What you'll need skin for.

The Earth in the Attic (Yale Series of Younger Poets)

12 December 2008

White House response

On behalf of President Bush, thank you for your correspondence.

We appreciate hearing your views and welcome your suggestions.

Due to the large volume of e-mail received, the White House cannot respond to every message.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.

11 December 2008

10 December 2008

Kelly Cherry

Read Kelly Cherry's essay, "Authority," in New Letters.

If you can obtain a copy of this issue, read Mary Jo Bang's splendid new 21st-century translation of the first five cantos of Dante's Inferno.

08 December 2008

David Micah Greenberg

[from David Micah Greenberg's Planned Solstice, University of Iowa, 2003]

Schoolyard with Boat

       "The child plays at being not only a shopkeeper
       or teacher but also a windmill and a train."
       -- Walter Bejamin, "On the Mimetic Faculty"

Our horizon thickened, dropped lower like grain.
There was no grain. And it was dawn again.

Waves darted out of the snow, turned to wind.
The snow waved as out a flawed window.

The wind made odd furrows through the field.
There was no time between lines.

Dawn and not, reflected presently.
Culled, the snow overturned and was now.

What when not, repeated the wind. Children
pulled in a blind row against it.

The resilience of children grows
with the instability of progress.

When bright snow sheared and dulled
I believe no matter. No note guards the gate.

* * *

Negation in retrospect, although not prospectively
culls in 'scape' the grating of canvas or progress.

Not words alone pleased me, said the flag
lines will not meet. The white cord chimes on the pole.

Not words alone the flag hangs, knowing
held back, as uncertainty means negation

struck down, the corrective open to learning
is sustainable in ignorance.

A gull a prospective self
billeting in the wind is resistance, in a mind

knowing resistance and measuring in it
progress, self-iterative spanning. The gull sweeps

belief. But what learns? Not what is to be learned. What learns --
when snow folds on threshing snow

when the lesson is valuable
gain will not cull in loss, snow is a thorn of it.

The snow on brick chalks and thins.
Red lines and white are drawn together.

Children brace by succeeding each other
in the wind, eyes shut to glare.

The gull sweeps and its shadow into snow
furls -- a steel share

as snow is in breathing motion like a bird
shaking snow from crest.

Miseducation risks correction within its own
frame. A crop

is a decision of field. Harbinger of space, white winter,
work with me while I live. When I do not, do not work.

Planned Solstice (Kuhl House Poets)

06 December 2008

Kay Ryan

[from Kay Ryan's The Niagara River, Grove Press, 2005]


People should be
open on top like a cup.
A piece of bread
should be able to sop
some of us up.
We should be milk-like
or like wine. We should
not have to be trying
to get our caps off all the time.
The storybook boy
attempts the simple gesture
of baring his head
for his emperor,
but another hat has appeared.
This happens over and over.
Who does not share
his despair of simplicity,
of acting clearly and with dignity?
And what pleasure can we find
in the caps, brightly feathered
and infinitely various,
that pile up so high they bury us?

The Niagara River: Poems (Grove Press Poetry)

02 December 2008

Olena Kalytiak Davis

Harriet is a great blog, and the most recent blogging crew, particularly Olena Kalytiak Davis, Forrest Gander, Javier Huerta, and Linh Dinh, have been stupendous. If nothing else, read Olena and Forrest's recent posts:

Olena: "i don't want to craft jewels or even jewel boxes anymore. and i have already tried showing/shown my tools. now i guess i really am again asking: why build?"

Forrest: "If our perceptual experience is mostly palimpsestic or endlessly juxtaposed and fragmented; if events rarely have discreet beginnings or endings but only layers, duration, and transitions; if natural processes are already altered by and responsive to human observation, how does poetry register the complex interdependency that draws us into a dialogue with the world?"

another good reason to publish online

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt halts acquisitions

01 December 2008

Robert Adamson

[from Robert Adamson's The Goldfinches of Baghdad, Flood Editions, 2006]

Walking by the River

He walked waist-deep
through his thoughts,
emotions, a tangle of vines
and tree-creepers.

His words were finches,
flying before him
as he swung his arms --
scrambled paragraphs.

A waterfall sounded
ahead of his walk,
chipped words cracked
with each step. He came to

a calm place, opulent phrases
in bloom: purple-fruited
pigface, the blackthorn's
blue-black sloe.

The Serpent

Twenty crows gathered on a branch,
bare in the early summer's heat.
We strung a bow from the willow tree

and used bamboo for arrows.
The afternoon thrummed with locusts.
Clouds at the end of the sky

were alive with thunder that shook
the corrugated iron. We were wet
with sweat -- it was a hundred degrees

that day. Granny said, hot as bloody Hades.
It was Christmas time -- the girls
were up for holidays -- and we were

playing under the verandah. The sun
spread a golden glow in the calm
before the gathering storm

as the first snake of the season
came slithering out of the fowl yard,
leaving us its red-checked skin.

The Goldfinches of Baghdad

30 November 2008

Brooks Haxton

[from Brooks Haxton's They Lift Their Wings to Cry, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008]

Screech-Owl Pie

to Roger Fanning in memory of Tom Andrews and Agha Shahid Ali

A mouse, let's say white-footed,
spooked by headlights, dashed
from under the shoulder grass, owl
stooped, and here beside the road:

owl pie -- a body sacred once
to worshippers of wisdom and dark fate,
now mashed into a feathered plaque
with only wings and talons left intact.

My brain beside the road,
unlike the owl brain eaten by a crow,
felt sun burst into the forward ports,
intense as headlights bearing down . . .

to think: the mouse the car set free
might well have been the species
people train to sing
for ears of wheat. And friends of ours

who taught with us by that same road,
though dead, may train us yet
to sing for them, to say, by reading
from their poems, how beautiful

Kashmir and West Virginia are
without them. Screech-owl pie, wings
spread with talons underneath, contains
no more an owl than shut books do

friends. And as for us who happen by,
who hunker at the guardrail: listen.
Year-round after nightfall
the white-footed mice are singing.

They Lift Their Wings to Cry

26 November 2008

Julio Cortazar & Carol Peters

[from Julio Cortazar's Último Round, Ediciones Destino, 1969]

Sílaba viva

Qué vachaché, está ahí aunque no lo quieran,
está en la noche, está en la leche,
en cada coche y cada bache y cada boche
está, le largarán los perros y lo mismo estará
aunque lo acechan, lo buscarán a troche y moche
y él estará con el que luche y el que espiche
y en todo el que se agrande y se repeche
él estará, me cachendió.

Santiago Colas says this:

I don't know how to translate this poem because it is literally about the sound "che" that appears in a number of words that might otherwise not be found together in the same piece of language: night (noche), milk (leche), car (coche), pothole (bache), brawl (boche), hunt (acechen), pell-mell (a troche y moche), fights (luche), speechifies (espiche), leans (repeche), goddamn it (me cachendió). All these words, in Spanish, have the syllable "che" in them. Cortázar tells us that this syllable is everywhere, even if you don't want it, even if you try to hunt it down, it will be there, in all these words.

And I say, try translate.

Syllable Lives

                - after Julio Cortazar

What's with che, it's here though unwanted
it's in bedcheck, it's in cheese,
in each Chevrolet and each of the ditches and each archenemy
there it is, the dogs will get it going and it will hang tough
though it's searched for, hunted from Chelsea to Cheltenham
and it will be the one that punches and the one that preaches
and in everything that stretches out and pitches in
there they will be, those sons of bitches.

Ultimo Round

16 November 2008

Adam Zagajewski

[from Adam Zagajewski's Eternal Enemies, FSG, 2008]

FSG's blog mentions two of my favorite lines by Adam Zagajewski:

No, ma'am, I said,
this is the nontalking compartment.

from his poem "En Route" and links to audio of the complete poem.

[from "In a Little Apartment"]

the fear and sweet gooseberries of childhood

[a stanza from "Stolarska Street"]

I returned to the city of sweet cakes,
bitter chocolate, and lovely funerals
(a grain of hope was once buried here),
the city of starched memory --
but the anxiety that drives wanderers,
and turns the wheels of bicycles, mills, and clocks,
won't leave me, it remains concealed
in my heart like a starving deserter
in an abandoned circus wagon.

Eternal Enemies: Poems

Glyn Maxwell

[from Glyn Maxwell's Hide Now, Houghton Mifflin, 2008]

Being too young to pass
the gate, we made our distance from a loop.
We'd ride around our house, and every lap
would be another mile
       into the mist.

Ten laps to France,
twenty there, a picnic in a field,
then twenty more to Germany, an old
box or two a Schloss
       by the back fence

and thirty more, who knows,
Austria, Russia . . . While my little brother
pedalled out of sight I'd fix a border:
a cold guard with a gun,
       a hostile pose,

harder question. Eighty
laps away the world was very tense,
there were shots fired, he found me dead and once
I found him dead and once
       we separately

lay down and died.
Him in a heap by his bike in the back garden.
Me face-down in moss in the front garden.
Nothing happened for ages
       as our mum dried

the dishes at the sink,
and put them away and saw he was still there.
The clouds went slowly over Hertfordshire,
till the rain began to smudge
       the scarlet ink

of our cardboard Chinese flag.
But we stayed down in the drizzle, we were dead.
If the other had gone inside it was too bad.
He didn't cough. I didn't
       scratch my leg.

In distant lands we died
we were thinking as we trooped into the warm,
and washed our hands in water that was steam
in our own home with the day
       dark blue outside.

Hide Now

11 November 2008

10 November 2008

Paul Valery according to George Steiner

[from George Steiner's My Unwritten Books, New Directions, 2008]

As Valery has it in his Platonic dialogue on architecture, the purpose of the architect is to "redistribute light, endowed with intelligible forms and almost musical perspectives, into the space where mortals move."

My Unwritten Books

Pierre Joris translates Paul Celan

Remember Kristallnacht.

08 November 2008

George Steiner

[from George Steiner's My Unwritten Books, New Directions, 2008]

Essentially powerless for some two thousand years, the Jew in exile, in his ghettos, amid the equivocal tolerance of gentile societies, was in no position to persecute other human beings. He could not, whatever his just cause, torture, humiliate, or deport other men and women. This was the Jew's singular nobility, a nobility that seems to me far greater than any other. I hold it as axiomatic that anyone who tortures another human being, be it under compelling political, military necessity, that anyone who systematically humiliates or makes homeless another man, woman, or child, forfeits the core of their own humanity. The imperative of survival, the ethical ambiguities of its settlement in what was Palestine (by what sophistry does a nonbelieving, nonpracticing Israeli invoke God's promise to Abraham?), have forced Israel to torture, to humiliate, to expropriate -- though often to a lesser degree than its Arab and Islamic enemies. The State lives behind walls. It is armed to the teeth. It knows racism. In short: it has made of Jews ordinary men. Demography in fact threatens this soiled normality. There will before too long be more Arabs inside Israel than there are Jews. Only catastrophe in the outside world could trigger a new inflow of immigrants. That the collapse of Israel would produce an irreparable psychological and spiritual crisis throughout the Diaspora is more than likely. But it is not certain. It may well be that Judaism is larger than Israel, that no historical setback could extinguish the mystery of its endurance. Christianity may have been arrogant in the catacombs. We simply do not know. In the meanwhile, however, Israel is reducing Jews to the common condition of nationalist man. It has diminished that moral singularity and that aristocracy of nonviolence toward others which were the tragic glory of the Jew.

My Unwritten Books

06 November 2008

Martha Serpas

[from Martha Serpas's The Dirty Side of the Storm, Norton, 2007]

Bully Camp Road

Every mangled, rusty hood reads "CLOSE!"
In white grease print, as if something might
Escape, like a mad dog through a screen door

Or Freon-charged air from a struggling
Window unit in Cocodrie mid-
July, from this junkyard of car shells

Turtle-stacked along a sagging chain-link fence.
A curl-tip of blackberry springs up
From a chrome gear shift, commanding

What's left of this pickup's interior:
Seat rails, speaker wires, steering column,
A Fritos bag and a few flakes of glass

From the mosaic bubble of punched-
Out windshield. Its bottle-green leaves against
The hollowed dash make it look a little

Lost, a little upstream. Don't think hope, for
God's sake. Think vulnerable. Think of that day
In kindergarten, telling the teacher --

She so pleased with fifteen etched Christmas cards --
Mama got them from the back of some drawer.
Think how complicated truth became.

Most of these jalopies are picked clean
To their Detroit bones: not a rearview
To be had, not a taillight to follow

Down a swamp road. And this road is a long
One, all caked dust and oyster shells, past
The house of a boy who set off a shot-

Gun under his head, so that his tongue,
I'm sure, was the first to go, a collage
Of rote recitals, blunders, and dreams.

Echoes endure, chalky dust quiets,
Almost settles, like this passenger cage,
Razed to a mound of glinting red powder.

The Dirty Side of the Storm: Poems

Yusef Komunyakaa

[from Yusef Komunyakaa's Warhorses, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2008]


Lightning struck. It left a courtyard of totems
on their backs or kneeling in the midday dusk,

& a German bomber rose among the clouds,
headed for another grid square on a map.

When cries of the burning city reached Picasso
in Paris, a woman's wailing was in his head,

but all the king's men — all the king's horsemen
couldn't mend this mirage of toppled statuary.

He mounted a tall stepladder to reach the top
of his canvas. Black & white, shades of gray —

days of splintered shadows & angry nights
writhed at the painter's feet. All the years

of exile bowed to him, & then time's ashes
drew past & present future perfect together:

Although it was only a replica woven on a wall
at the UN, before the statesmen could speak

of war, they draped a blue cloth over the piece,
so cameras weren't distracted by the dead child

in her mother's embrace. The severed hand
grips a broken sword. The woman falling

through the floor of a burning house is still
falling. The horse screams a human voice.

The dumbstruck bull pines for the matador.
There's always a fallen warrior whispering

a stone's promise, waiting for a star,
his mouth agape.

[also from Warhorses, the start of "Autobiography of My Alter Ego"]

You see these eyes?
                             You see this tongue?
You see these ears?
                             They may detect a quiver
in the grass, an octave
                             higher or lower —
a little different, an iota,
                             but they're no different
than your eyes & ears.
                             I can't say I don't know
how Lady Liberty's
                             tilted in my favor or yours,
that I don't hear what I hear
                             & don't see what I see
in the cocksure night
                             from Jefferson & Washington
to terrorists in hoods and sheets
                             in a black man's head.
As he feels what's happening
                             you can also see & hear
what's happening to him.
                             You see these hands?
They know enough to save us.
                             I'm trying to say this: True,
I'm a cover artist's son,
                             born to read between lines,
but I also know that you know
                             a whispered shadow in the trees
is the collective mind
                             of insects, birds, & animals
witnessing what we do to each other.

Warhorses: Poems

05 November 2008


Who's for renaming the U.S.of A. to the Republic of ObamabO.

if:book: Rick Prelinger

I mention the The Future of the Book blog often but for good reason. Read this tidbit:

we need to convene and decide how deeply we want to connect culture and property. And when we’ve settled on a particular mix, we might think about whether it maximizes our freedom to speak, to learn and to inquire — in short, whether it leads to the kind of a world we’d want to live in. This will not be an easy conversation — it’s hardly even begun. But one way we can move towards more open cultural distribution and exchange is to make our own works as accessible as possible. We can do this by limiting restrictions on reuse to the absolute minimum, by using permissive licenses, like the Creative Commons licenses, that say “use me this way, it’s OK,” and by using copyright homeopathically rather than as a weapon of shock and awe

Then go to if:book and read the rest of the Rick Prelinger's argument.

03 November 2008


Bob Stein invites you to help if:book spend their NEH grant

Elizabeth Bishop & Robert Lowell

[from three reviews of the recently published Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2008]

Dan Chiasson in The New Yorker:

    "No poet is obsessed with craft per se; craft is just a name for the
    mechanics of immortality. . . . what makes these letters so
    fascinating is their hawk’s eye on immortality, even in the midst
    of lives lived fully, often sloppily."

William Logan in The New York Times:

    "It’s so rare for a writer to find the perfect sympathetic
    intelligence, we think sadly of Melville and Hawthorne, Coleridge
    and Wordsworth, whose hothouse friendships came to grief,
    in part because of the fatal attunement of their imaginations"

Ron Silliman on his blog:

    "I don’t recall anything like this for the letters betwixt Robert
    Duncan & Denise Levertov, two other authors of approximately the
    same generation and at least the same stature as poets."

Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell

31 October 2008

Cole Swensen

[from Cole Swensen's Ours, University of California Press, 2008]


Certain traditions claim that man and garden cannot be separated,
or if and when they are, will neither still be visible, the inverse

of those twins that you never see in the same place at the same time.
       We disappear
through a single door, unrecognized

in the morning in the park, where we sit behind the early paper
and periodically declare I can't believe

in the Middle Ages, they drew the news on cemetery walls. A long line
of bodies in silhouette that swayed. This too, they say,

is paradise because the sky touches the ground wherever the former
       has a hole in it called a hand,
espalliered mansions and guests in the millions.

The first public gardens in history were called oubliettes. As soon as
       you entered,
you were indistinguishable from the animals.

Ours (New California Poetry)

26 October 2008

Susan Stewart

[from Susan Stewart's Columbarium, University of Chicago press, 2003]


Mark a circle and start digging here.
Don't think you are clearing a space
for a foundation, just dig like a mole,
stitching in and out. Tell them your hope
goes down slanting, that everything
inevitable runs toward
the horizontal.
Dig wherever your shadow falls, a green
patch backlit by a blazing
planet -- wherever your shadow falls, dig
in the shape of your shadow falling.

Columbarium (Phoenix Poets Series)

24 October 2008

Marie Howe

[from Marie Howe's Kingdom of Ordinary Time, Norton, 2008]

How You Can't Move Moonlight

How you can't move moonlight — you have to go
there and stand in it. How you can't coax it
from your bed to come and shine there. You can't
carry it in a bucket or cup it in
your hands to drink. Wind won't

blow it. A bird flying through it won't
tear it. How you can't sell it or buy it
or save it or earn it or own it, erase
it or block it from shining on the mule's
bristly back, dog's snout, duck bill, cricket, toad.
Shallow underwater stones gleam underwater.

And the man who's just broken the neck
of his child? He's standing by the window
moonlight shining on his face and throat.

The Kingdom of Ordinary Time: Poems

Susan Stewart

[from Susan Stewart's The Forest, University of Chicago Press, 1995]


Her mother is rolling cigars in the factory.
She is best of all, even perfect. She taps
the woody threads, immaculate, into the acrid
raw silk of the wrapping.
Best of all, she can do it without thinking or asking,
could do it while talking, but doesn't ever.
And so she could never be the cackling
floor-boss or the foreman who stands there
tethered to the watch. She's in it, for good,
on the floor, for life, watching the strings
tucked into their casings, each brown bud
taut below her long white hands.
And just her one thought — this is my
machine — the shroud around the shadows.
You, genre painter, who finds in this beauty
and who, from this, would make an enduring thing,
or you who could build from this some plot strung
with ornaments, constructing a monument
at the site of its senselessness,
turn away, turn from the din and the dust,
and choose someone else — not her.

The Forest (Phoenix Poets Series)

20 October 2008

Katie Ford

[from Katie Ford's Deposition, Graywolf, 2002]

When the Trees Are Gone

Fire in the trees splits them
open like body bags. They heap
into piles, tips pointing to the blue mountains bruising
the edge of the valley, pointing to the river just
before it runs into the walled arc of the dam, to where I know
water that far off is useless.

1. What does its task to the trees is true.
2. What pulses so you can make out a body is true.

Fire in the trees splits them open,
the pine-splints clean and stripped downwards
like a photograph of something caught
falling. Is it fire, is it wood
that makes the sound of the mussel I cracked off a rock yesterday?
Only a half-body away, my hand on the rock, wrenching
an armor of white off the stone haystack.

3. A crack and then again a crack of heat, of pine, of a bag opened, of the shell.
4. What makes a sound is true.
5. In me the sound of something repeatedly done to another thing.

Fire in the trees splits them.
I took the shells from the rock, quickly as if the tide
were coming in. My arms were full because of what I did.

6. The tide was out. The tide was out.
7. The sky becomes larger, more true, becomes the shape of the body it lost, hollows everythere.

What will I have to say to the man who tells me,
when we watch the ashes cool acre by acre, the fire
having consumed each arrow-pine standing and fallen,

It was like this the evening my wife died. She filled the whole bed.
I would turn to her, then remember she
was wrapped in a blanket in the front hall. There was no
arch in her spine. The blanket had smoothed over each edge
and curve of her face like a leaf enclosing its knotted buds.
I turned to her again and again until morning, when they came to take
her away. Just wait. Tomorrow
when you wake up, you will see the trees
where they used to be.

Deposition: Poems

14 October 2008

Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky

Try praise, today's proposal from the Kenyon Review blog.

01 October 2008

29 September 2008

if: the future of books

If you haven't already, start reading if: book. Dan Piepenbring's cogent remarks on high school yearbooks vs Facebook.

reading in Asheville, NC

Sunday, October 5th at 3 PM I'll be reading for the Poetrio series at Malaprops Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, NC.

25 September 2008

Martha Graham via Russell Freedman

[from Russell Freedman's Martha Graham: A Dancer's Life, Clarion Books, 1998]

According to Agnes de Mille: "I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy. ... I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly,"

" 'There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.' "

Martha Graham: A Dancer's Life

24 September 2008

Oni Buchanan

[from Oni Buchanan's prize-winning Spring from The University of Illinois Press, 2008]

The Sleepers

And in the dimness of the corridor, a waking person steps
soundlessly through the rows of unseen sleepers, each
in his individual box behind a wall.

Another treads elsewhere, a parallel corridor, a carpet
of deep maroon absorbing the weight of the step,
the sound of the step, as if no one —

The gray wears a gray scarf, knitted, about its throat,
or seeps from itself, evaporating into gray, a mist, heapings of
     insulation, the itch
of material, gray swathe, stiff canvas of filament — and above,
outside the hallways (rectangular prisms of gray) (two telescopes of
     gray capped on either end):
the dull stars stuck over the earth like buttons in a dust upholstery.

And sing soft to one another, and the bodies follow from offstage,
from behind the heavy plush, where the ropes are held and the hands
     dressed in black
flit between the long, thin planes of scenery —

On the path we saw a tanager like an orange handkerchief pulled
     through the leaves.

There is always that distant tremolo in the air that rises from the
from the graves in the dell,
and the kingfisher diving over the membrane of pond.

And above all the tangle (the matted earth, the root hairs and
bundles, the barky breachings of gnarl, the bullfrogs and the
the squirrels growing fatter, and then the panoplies of
like a game of stacking hands, or canopies

where the branches arch in ribs) above:
the spots of chimney sparrows flitting like eye motes over the white
     of the sky.
The rattle of the sparrows like a handful of dice
or dried beans thrown into a toy drum

(the sound of the rattle like a hemisphere of straight pins
radiating from their cushion, the pin heads balancing each
its million spots of light, allotted, while beneath
and down to the sharpened tip, the long metal shafts
vibrate invisibly: sleep.

Sleep. Sleep. Your separate sleeps — )

Spring (National Poetry Series)

19 September 2008

Katie Ford

[from Katie Ford's Colosseum, Graywolf Press, 2008]


We drove through Wyoming passing people on horseback, noon horse shadows like those of caskets lifted up, the dead sitting up through pine boxes, looking at the strange reins in their hands. Once we were in the mountains we saw no animals, no birds. Green signs beside the granite rocks dated them back to the Triassic Age, Mississippian. On the opposing hill, the trail the goats wore down coming to water curved like a strand of hair, a single hair, unmassed. You said stop the car. Look at that, you said, pointing at the strips of ice-age rock, settling. A mountain range is simply a crease in the land is how it was taught to me. A crease is the foresight of division, you were taught. Desperate for communion, Catherine of Siena was beside herself in hills like these, eating nothing but an herb she would suck on and spit out. She scalded herself at the baths, ran away to a cave, shoved twigs into her mouth so that when the host traveled down her raw throat she would indeed feel something, even a god breaking inside her. Would you look at that, you said again near the rail of the viewpoint, where the historical marker explained the plates underneath. Beneath it, a crow's wing. Lord of confusion, Lord of great slaughter and thin birds, you could never answer all of us at once. Layer by layer I imagined pulling it apart to find the upholding musculature beneath the soot and grease of flight. Finding none — just the spinelike axis and its branching barbs, minute hooks holding them together — we continued on to the hotel parking lot in Sheridan, where at night someone scraped a key or a knife alongside the car while we slept off what we could. It was hard to tell what was used. There was nowhere to fix it. There was no talk of ever fixing it.

Colosseum: Poems

Oni Buchanan

Oni Buchanan's "maroon canoe" from Spring on Poetry Daily and her "Text Message" from Drunken Boat

17 September 2008

Alysha Wood

[excerpt from Alysha Wood's "how to peel in seven lessons" from TinFish 18, TinFish Press, 2008]

Lesson ๔


Gaw kept. Gaw kept containing. Gaw kept containers to reuse. Once something was empty she rinsed it out and saved it to hold something else. This was a kind of security. A kind of pack-rat-ness. A kind of hoarding. A kind of preparation. These small bits of condensing. Reusing. Small woven places.


It was her habit to pour her child into old containers. Old tin cans of soybeans. Plastic bowls. She poured her child into such and such a container until it became obvious that the child would not fit. She would add this sweet into another, larger container and go on with her kitchen. Stow her in a box or in a pantry for later use. She might forget, and there when she opened the door would be her daughter, spilled about the ledges, busting open in the lip, neck cramped up all in corners.

Gaw liked things of her own tidy. She swept with one broom, cut with one knife, scrubbed with one towel. The shelves were cleaned, the mess poured into a glass jar. It was strange to Gaw that her daughter had accumulated more than before, that the sum of her parts no longer added up to 60 g, net weight 2.12 oz.


Gaw took careful pains to lose weight, to fill things up to the brim, to save space. This was about economy, and she had learned this when she crossed water all those eons ago. It was a question of what could be carried. She knew she could not take any thing with her and somehow this translated to saving space. To holding as little as possible at one time.

subscribe to TinFish

15 September 2008

Reginald Shepherd

[from Itinerary, GreenTower Press, 2006]

Hesitation Theory

I drift into the sound of wind,
how small my life must be
to fit into his palm like that, holly
leaf, bluejay feather, milkweed fluff,
pine straw or sycamore pod, resembling
scraps of light. The world
slips through these fingers
so easily, there's so much
to miss: the sociable bones
linked up in supple rows, mineral
seams just under the skin. I hold
my palm against the sun and don't see
palm or sun, don't hold anything
in either hand. I look up, look
away (what's what?), I trip
and stumble (fall
again), find myself face down
in duff, a foam of fallen live oak
leaves, with only
this life, mine at times.

GreenTower Press

14 September 2008

Evie Shockley

[from Evie Shockley's a half-red sea, Carolina Wren Press, 2006]

you must walk this lonesome

say hello to moon leads you into trees as thick as folk on easter pews dark but venture through amazing was blind but now fireflies glittering dangling from evergreens like christmas oracles soon you meet the riverbank down by the riverside water bapteases your feet moon bursts back in low yellow swing low sweet chariot of cheese shines on in the river cup hands and sip what never saw inside a peace be still mix in your tears moon distills distress like yours so nobody knows the trouble it causes pull up a log and sit until your empty is full your straight is wool your death is yule moonshine will do that barter with you what you got for what you need draw from the river like it is well with my soul o moon you croon and home you go

a half-red sea (Carolina Wren Press Poetry Series)

02 September 2008

Susan Stewart

[from Susan Stewart's Red Rover, University of Chicago Press, 2008]


their tumbling joy
decanted descanting
over cobble
stones in and out
of firethorn back
and forth to gingko
who knows
who will
ever know
what net
binds them
I would not
lose them
could not lose
them know
if there's
place another
world another life
there must be wrens.

Red Rover (Phoenix Poets Series)

[from "Apple" from Columbarium, University of Chicago Press, 2003]

. . .

If you wait for the apple, you wait
for one ripe moment. And should
you sleep, or should you dream, or
should you stare too hard in the daylight
or come into the dark to see

what can't be seen, you will drop
from the edge, going over into
coarse, or rot, or damping off.
You will wake to yourself, regretful,
in a grove of papery leaves.

Columbarium (Phoenix Poets Series)

27 August 2008

Kimberly Johnson

[from Kimberly Johnson's A Metaphorical God, 2008]

Sweet Incendiary

In this hot light, the seraphim

might look like anything: juniper
flounced in wind, flashing spoil
of jasper, the dove that flies,

anything with a little
shimmer to it, and some
allegorical precedent.

O for an obvious angel,
face of flame and flaming wings,
and golden dart enflamed to thrust

my breast and thrusting pierce again,
my breast like honey melting
with delicious wounds. Or rather leave

these Golden-age extremities:
give me a shotgun angel
to shuck me in the back

of his chariot and break
for the state line, shack up, rip
the veil and show me the shining

undeniable face of God.
No such luck. No glorious
gristle for my fancies

but what I bring myself. — See
my jerry-built epiphany?
Car battery wired to my tongue

set to switch-on my own shimmer,
the spark like a burning coal,
like honey for sweetness

as I mouth the hallmark motto
of heatstruck martyrs: Lord
let me suffer or let me die.

A Metaphorical God: Poems

20 August 2008

James Merrill

[from James Merrill’s “Lost in Translation,” from Collected Poems, 2001]

. . .

Before the puzzle was boxed and readdressed
To the puzzle shop in the mid-Sixties,
Something tells me that one piece contrived
To stay in the boy’s pocket. How do I know?
I know because so many later puzzles
Had missing pieces — Maggie Teyte’s high notes
Gone at the war’s end, end of the vogue for collies,
A house torn down; and hadn’t Mademoiselle
Kept back her pitiful bit of truth as well?
I’ve spent the last days, furthermore,
Ransacking Athens for that translation of “Palme.”
Neither the Goethehaus nor the National Library
Seems able to unearth it. Yet I can’t
Just be imagining. I’ve seen it. Know
How much of the sun-ripe original
Felicity Rilke made himself forgo
(Who loved French words — verger, mûr, parfumer)
In order to render its underlying sense.
Know already in that tongue of his
What Pains, what monolithic Truths
Shadow stanza to stanza’s symmetrical
Rhyme-rutted pavement. Know that ground plan left
Sublime and barren, where the warm Romance
Stone by stone faded, cooled; the fluted nouns
Made taller, lonelier than life
By leaf-carved capitals in the afterglow.
The owlet umlaut peeps and hoots
Above the open vowel. And after rain
A deep reverberation fills with stars.

Collected Poems

16 August 2008

Li-Young Lee

[from Li-Young Lee's Behind My Eyes, 2008]

After the Pyre

It turns out, what keeps you alive
as a child at mid-century
following your parents from burning
village to cities on fire to a country at war
with itself and anyone
who looks like you,

what allows you to pass through smoke,
through armed mobs singing the merits of a new regime, tooth for a
liberation by purification, and global
dissemination of the love of jealous gods,
coup d'etat, coup de grace, and the cooing of mothers
and doves and screaming men
and children caught in the pyre's updraft,

what keeps you safe even among your own,
the numb, the haunted, the maimed, the barely alive,

tricks you learned to become invisible,
escapes you perfected, playing dead, playing
stupid, playing blind, deaf, weak, strong,
playing girl, playing boy, playing native, foreign,
in love, out of love, playing crazy, sane, holy, debauched,

playing scared, playing brave, happy, sad, asleep, awake,
playing interested, playing bored, playing broken,
playing "Fine, I'm just fine," it turns out,

now that you're older
at the beginning of a new century,
what kept you alive
all those years keeps you from living.

Behind My Eyes: Poems (with audio CD)

11 August 2008

Susan Howe

[from Susan Howe's Souls of the Labadie Tract, 2007]

Now faith is not what we
hereafter have we have a
world resting on nothing

Rest was never more than
abstract since it is empty
reality we cannot escape

Reason throws light open
Who is that phantom in
the foreground after you

Don’t be afraid — free as air
Light presupposes open
Distant if a foe not you

. . .

I keep you here to keep
your promise all that you
think I’ve wrought what

I see or do in the twilight
of time but keep forgetting
you keep coming back

. . .

Longing and envying rest
after a little — garden under
trees but better still likely

to be still more anxious to
get to just daylight all I’ve
always pushed backward

Souls of the Labadie Tract (New Directions Paperbook)

06 August 2008

Mary Jo Bang

[from Mary Jo Bang's Elegy, 2007]

"In Order" Means Neat and Not Next

Night was next. At some point
On the train the outside dissolved
And she was sitting next to herself in a seat.
In a two-tone gray and blue vinyl seat
With hints of a previous sitter. The dim other
She'd tried so hard to revive but failed
Was staring back at her

Through grit and dirt glass.
These are my footprints, she thought
Looking at her feet, Mary Jo's in Mary Janes.
Made of parts, they nullified the notion of total
Wholeness. The absurd road was obliterated
And all of the moment was inside.
The body buried in time.

Time, a fickle list of numbers.
Sleep was the utopian fantasy
She wished she could fall into.
Eye to the window, to fate.
Feeling but not seeing. Out there was absence
And presence. Out there was a row
Of everything she remembered.

Elegy: Poems

04 August 2008

Mark Jarman

[from Mark Jarman's Epistles, 2007]

11. One wants, the other wants

. . .

One wants to be singled out.

The way a knife will not fully separate a shaft of green onion or stalk of celery it has chopped, that is how one remains attached. The way blinding tears come, mincing yellow onions, that is how knowledge of others blurs. The tedious unpeeling of garlic cloves, especially the finicky thin ones near the heart of the bulb, with purple highlights running through the wrapping and skin, that is how the many inhere, clustered.

But one wants to be singled out, unsheathed from the smother of community, a slim, spiralform, marble word.

That word is your name.

There is in each of us an agent that refuses to die. It makes us, it is driven to form us, and has no idea who we are. Zapped by the ultimate fire blast, it will shift shape and endure. Lodged eventually in a crevice of the dead planet, it will wait millennia for rain.

One loves another, one loves himself. One strides through the color wheel naked with arms outstretched, one crouches drawing diagrams on the bottom of the ocean floor. One worries that his heart is going off, like a week-old carton of milk. One that love is leaking away through some hairfine crack.

. . .

Epistles: Poems

01 August 2008

28 July 2008

James Merrill

[from James Merrill's From the First Nine: 1946-1976, 1981]

The Mad Scene

Again last night I dreamed the dream called Laundry.
In it, the sheets and towels of a life we were going to share,
The milk-stiff bibs, the shroud, each rag to be ever
Trampled or soiled, bled on or groped for blindly,
Came swooning out of an enormous willow hamper
Onto moon-marbly boards. We had just met. I watched
From outer darkness. I had dressed myself in clothes
Of a new fiber that never stains or wrinkles, never
Wears thin. The opera house sparkled with tiers
And tiers of eyes, like mine enlarged by belladonna,
Trained inward. There I saw the cloud-clot, gust by gust,
Form, and the lightning bite, and the roan mane unloosen.
Fingers were running in panic over the flute's nine gates.
Why did I flinch? I loved you. And in the downpour laughed
To have us wrung white, gnarled together, one
Topmost mordent of wisteria,
As the lean tree burst into grief.

From the First Nine. Poems 1946-1976

25 July 2008

James Merrill

[from James Merrill's Collected Prose]

unless there's a story, of what conceivable interest is a tone of voice?

. . .

It can take me dozens of drafts to get something right, which often turns out to be a perfect commonplace. What joy when it works -- like fighting one's way through cobwebs to an open window. I don't mean that the more work you put into something, the better it turns out. Often you can feel the life ebbing away at the hands of a Mad Embalmer.

Collected Prose

Jorie Graham

[from Jorie Graham's Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts, 1980]

Girl at the Piano

It begins, what I can hear, with the train withdrawing from itself
at an even pace in the night although it always seems
to withdraw from us.
Our house almost continues

in its neighbors, although the thinnest bent and wavering fence
keeps us completely strange.
Perhaps it is a daughter who practices the piano, practices
slow and overstressed like the train, slow and relentless

like the crickets weaving their briar between us and growing
unsure of purpose. These three sounds continue, and I
alongside them so that we seem to stand
terribly still. Every change

is into a new childhood, what grows old only the fiber
of remembering, tight at first like crickets and ivories,
crickets and train,
then slackening

though always hanging on to the good bones of windowframes and eaves
and white columns of the porch
in moonlight. Like taffeta, the song,
though not yet learned, is closer to inhabiting her hands

and less her mind, ever closer to believing
it could never have been otherwise. Your sleep beside me is the real,
the loom I can return to when all loosens into speculation.
Silently, the air is woven

by the terribly important shuttle of your breath,
       the air that has crossed
your body retreating, the new air approaching. See,
transformation, or our love of it,
draws a pattern we can't see but own. Like the pennies we pushed

into the soil beneath the pillowy hydrangea, pennies
that will turn the white flowers blue,
or the song I finish past her, the completely learned song
like my other self, a penny slipped next to the heart, a neighbor.

Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts (Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets)

23 July 2008

Kimberly Johnson

[from Kimberly Johnson's A Metaphorical God, 2008]

Jubilee, featured today on Verse Daily

A Metaphorical God: Poems

22 July 2008

William Carlos Williams

[from William Carlos Williams's Kora in Hell: Improvisations, 1918]


When you hang your clothes on the line you do not expect to see the line broken and them trailing in the mud. Nor would you expect to keep your hands clean by putting them in a dirty pocket. However and of course if you are a market man, fish, cheeses and the like going under your fingers every minute in the hour you would not leave off the business and expect to handle a basket of fine laces without at least mopping yourself on a towel, soiled as it may be. Then how will you expect a fine trickle of words to follow you through the intimacies of this dance without — oh, come let us walk together into the air awhile first. One must be watchman to much secret arrogance before his ways are tuned to these measures. You see there is a dip of the ground between us. You think you can leap up from your gross caresses of these creatures and at a gesture fling it all off and step out in silver to my finger tips. Ah, it is not that I do not wait for you, always! But my sweet fellow — you have broken yourself without purpose, you are — Hark! it is the music! Whence does it come? What! Out of the ground? Is it this that you have been preparing fro me? Ha, goodbye, I have a rendezvous in the tips of three birch sisters. Encouragez vox musiciens! Ask them to play faster. I will return — later. Ah you are kind. — and I? must dance with the wind, make my own snow flakes, whistle a contrapuntal melody to my own fugue! Huzza then, this is the mazurka of the hollow log! Huzza then, this is the dance of rain in the cold trees.


What can it mean to you that a child wears pretty clothes and speaks three languages or that its mother goes to the best shops? It means: July has good need of his blazing sun. But if you pick one berry from the ash tree I'd not know it again for the same no matter how the rain washed. Make my bed of witchhazel twigs, said the old man, since they bloom on the brink of winter.


Truth's a wonder. What difference is it how the best head we have greets his first born these days? What weight has it that the bravest hair of all's gone waiting on cheap tables or the most garrulous lives lonely by a bad neighbor and has her south windows pestered with caterpillars? The nights are long for lice combing or moon dodging — and the net comes in empty again. Or there's been no fish in this fiord since Christian was a baby. Yet     up surges the good zest and the game's on. Follow at my heels, there's little to tell you you'd think a stoopsworth. You'd pick the same faces in a crowd no matter what I'd say. And you'd be right too. The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time. But here's another handful of west wind. White of the night! White of the night. Turn back till I tell you a puzzle: What is it in the stilled face of an old mender man and winter not far off and a darky parts his wool, and wenches wear of a Sunday? It's a sparrow with a crumb in his beak dodging wheels and clouds crossing two ways.

Imaginations (A New Directions Paperbook)

16 July 2008

Ellen Bryant Voigt

[from Ellen Bryant Voigt's Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006, 2007]


Everywhere, like grass, toadflax, yellow coils
           a girl’s pincurls. Overhead,
the purely ornamental fruits, whites and pinks

thick on the bough. And straight ahead, along the path,
           spice viburnum, exotic shrub
named for the smell its clustered flowers held — nutmeg —

that made St. Louis tropical. We walked a lush,
           vast, groomed preserve — preserve in the sense
meant by self-indulgent kings, and in the sense

meant by science: every bloom and bine and bole,
           each independent green was labeled,
that was what we loved. And at the center, bronzed:

Linnaeus, master of design, whose art it was
           to shepherd any living thing
into its proper pasture. There, foamflower. There,

lungwort, vernacular “Spilled Milk,” leaf splashed with white,
           a graceful pulmonaria
in the language of greatest clarity which classifies

lilies and roses, rows of lilac. And here, at our feet,
           shade-drunk dark herb: wormwood, our word
for bitterness: an Artemesia, The Hunter,

goddess made incarnate on the ground, in whose name
           the avid mortal watching her
was torn apart. Where was his name? Where was his flower?

A cloud paused in the spring sky, and there came to us then,
           on the path, another blossoming.
Radiant in mauve, head to toe, back braced

as though to balance the weight of full breasts, one hand,
           gloved, lifted, unthinking to pet
the back of the hair, the hair itself a lacquered helmet.

And what should we make of her height, her heft, the size of the
           the gruff swagger in the gait:
we stared outright — it seemed all right to stare, like

Linnaeus, who’d ranked the stones, and sorted the plants by how
           they propagate and colonized
whatever crawls and swims and flies and bears live young?

Light by which I’ve lived, the wish to name, to know,
           the work of it, the cost of it —
if only I could be, or want to be, more like

that boy: ignorant, stunned, human.
                                                     “Acteon,” you said,
           by his own hounds torn asunder. And so
the brief shadow flickered and dissolved: the world

was ours again, the world like this, made less confused.
           And we strolled like kings back down the path,
past a redbud tree in plush white bloom.

Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006