29 December 2009

Joshua Poteat

[from Joshua Poteat's Illustrating the Machine That Makes the World: From J. G. Heck's 1851 Pictorial Archive of Nature and Science,University of Georgia, 2009]

Illustrating the theory of winds
             [PLATE 23, FIG. 62]

I mix opium with bear fat and seed for the butcher birds

             to give myself laughter. They shit themselves,

their tongues slight and pink, a grub could do better.

                         It is more suitable than flying for them,

it is a gift. Summer, and the chatter does not cease.

             Puffbird, moorcock, wheatear, willow wren,

I do not hate them. I hold them close to count the mites
                         in their eyes. Each flight is the source of what

Each wing slung in the winds stills the winds.

             The stars come out. We can do no better than this,

our lives are our own. On another coast, I'm sure
                         there is a swallow in a nest of moss, so alive the dust

lies quiet against the fever. The grasses breathing beneath

             are my witness, the bees tapping the window glass, my loves.

27 December 2009

Amy Gerstler

[from Amy Gerstler's Dearest Creature,Penguin, 2009]

For My Niece Sidney, Age Six [excerpt]

Did you know that boiling to death
was once a common punishment
in England and parts of Europe?
It's true. In 1542 Margaret Davy,
a servant, was boiled for poisoning
her employer. So says the encyclopedia.
That's the way I like to start my day:
drinking hot black coffee and reading
the 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Its pages are tissue thin and the covers
rub off in your hands in dirt-colored
crumbs (the kind a rubber eraser
makes), but the prose voice is all knowing
and incurably sure of itself. My 1956
World Book runs to 18 volumes and has red
pebbly covers. It begins at "aardvark"
and ends with "zygote." I used to believe
you could learn everything you'd ever
need by reading encyclopedias. Who
was E. B. Browning? How many Buddhists
in Burma? What is Byzantine Art? Where
do bluebells grow? These days, I own five
sets of encyclopedias from various
eras. None of them ever breathed
a word about the fact that this humming,
aromatic, acid-flashback, pungent, tingly
fingered world is acted out differently
for each one of us by the puppet theater
of our senses. Some of us grow up doing
credible impressions of model citizens
(though sooner or later hairline
cracks appear in our facades). The rest
get dubbed eccentrics, unnerved and undone
by other people's company, for which we
nevertheless pine. Curses, outbursts,
and distracting chants simmer all day
long in the Crock-Pots of our heads.
Encyclopedias contain no helpful entries
on conducting life's business while the ruckus
in your skull keeps competing for your
attention; or on the tyranny of the word
"normal" — its merciless sway over those
of us bedeviled and obsessed,
hopeless at school dances, repelled by
mothers' suffocating hugs, yet entranced
by foul-smelling chemistry experiments,
or eager to pass sleepless nights seeking
rhymes for "misspent" and "grimace."
Dear girl, your jolly blond one-year-old
brother, who adults adore, fits into
the happy category of souls mostly at home
in the world. He tosses a fully clothed doll
into the inflatable wading pool in your
backyard (splash!) and laughs maniacally
at his own comic genius. You sit alone,
twenty feet from everyone else, on a stone
bench under a commodious oak, reading aloud,
gripping your book like the steering wheel
of a race car you're learning to drive.
Complaints about you are already filtering
in. . . .

Phebe Davidson

[from Phebe Davidson's Seven Mile, Main Street Rag, 2009]

Don't Nobody Know a Thing

The sun had mostly dropped when she walked into the field, her shadow coming before. She stopped behind the straw man and pressed her body close, stretching her arms to either side as if she would measure — shoulder-breadth, hand-span, height — then she reached her arms around his chest and tucked one hand in his shirt. They were both lit up by low, late sun. Both of them outlined in fire. I heard her sigh two times, no more. One time was heavy and full of woe and one like a woman come home. I never moved nor never spoke a word. Don't nobody know a thing but me. Don't nobody know a thing.

25 December 2009

April Bernard

[from April Bernard's Romanticism,Norton 2009]

Essen und Trinken
from Sonnenwendenlieder
(Solstice Songs)

Love breaks me like a corn cake
in a boy's mouth.

I am eating my own heart but I would like to wash it first,
raccoon-like, in the Rhine.

I offered him our bloods' river to drown in
but he found the metaphor distasteful. When did I learn

to make fun of pain, my closed throat,
the disease of my longing that makes it impossible

even to suck the ice chips shoveled
between dry lips with a long-handled spoon?

No river would oblige, in any case,
on this continent or another.

Linda Lee Harper

[from Linda Lee Harper's Small Waves,Finishing Line Press, 2009]


has company on the Amazon river, panhandles
among visitors slumming the rain forest
where she fled after the family scandals.
She'd take in more money if at the request

of the turistas she'd tell her tale,
but like the xenopus, queer creatures
that also lack tongues, morphemes, wails,
her celebrity remains her lucrative feature.

Sometimes you can catch her in a camp
store bar or down river in huts
natives build like movie sets, fires damp
where smoke, white as split Brazil nuts,

intoxicates the sky with hallucinogenic
vapors she imbibes, repudiates speech,
its loss, the silence, the impolitic lunatic
who hacked song and language beyond reach,

her compensation a spirit with wings,
an afterlife where even her river, sings.

24 December 2009

Libby Bernardin

[from Libby Bernardin's The Book of Myth, South Carolina Poetry Initiative, 2009]


Day slips into the place of listening:
Image against sun — a small bird,
forelimbs flowing like a monastic silver-
tinged garment in prayer.

On the street, closing sounds of day:
two boys edge the corner, cleats scuffing
the pavement, soccer gear in arms,
then Meg out of her house, calling
retina is okay, eye healing.
The fenced-in sheltie stands, stretches
and yawns as the boys pass, their two
heads together, celebrating themselves.

Past the fountain now, to Wheeler hill,
Sun magenta, those wings — silver and
lonely — on the wing with sun in a sea
of nearly still light, folding into night.

conceptual poetry

Video & audio from Conceptual Poetry and its Others, a 2008 conference held @ the University of Arizona Poetry Center.

Participants include Charles Alexander, Charles Bernstein, Caroline Bergvall, Christian Bok, Laynie Browne, Graca Capinha, David-Baptiste Chirot, Barbara Cole, Wystan Curnow, Danielle Beazer Dubrasky, Craig Dworkin, Carlos Gallego, Kenneth Goldsmith, Marie Smart, Jesper Olsson, Marjorie Perloff, Vanessa Place, Brian Reed, Linda Reinfeld, Cole Swensen, & Hugh Tribbey.

22 December 2009

Rachel Zucker

[from Rachel Zucker's Museum of Accidents,Wave Books, 2009]

Sunday Morning [excerpt]

Last night I woke up sweating and begged you
to open the open window and threw my damp
nightclothes to the floor none of which woke you.
Now the bedroom is crisp and I'm almost too big
to be on my back like this reading. Thinking you'll
touch me. Would you care to? Thirteen years later
a soft body under the sheets in a cold room
isn't a recipe for anything necessarily. The boys
are all set up with TV, my book's a decoy, and
a few weeks ago you said you liked
my hair. Can a woman this pregnant be shy?

Light shines in through the windows around
the taped-up shade samples. Maybe I should iChat you:
sex? That worked once. Or phone-to-phone
page you or text you: my dragon tattoo
wont last thru another shower.
What if you
wanted to lick it? What if you wanted to bite
my inner thigh? What if you wanted to take the book
from my hands and rip it down the spine?

Your study is three rooms away but I know you can hear
the Spanish music pumping from the car stopped
at the light, eleven floors down. What if sound
condenses as it rises to meet us? What if you wanted
to bend me over the bed, belly be damned,
and that desire, three rooms away, was a sharpened
arrow by the time it reached me?

Our son is whistling Suzuki Violin Book Volume One
just outside the bedroom door, which is my punishment
for teaching him to whistle. I hear the toilet flush and wonder
if our younger one will wash with soap and water. What if
you saw me right now and said, If you move I'll kill you,
you're so beautiful
—? What if my darkened nipples
intrigued you? I just read "touch the door like it's
someone's wife" in the book I'm reading,
which you didn't write. One of the samples snaps
against the window on his Scotch-taped hinge. You're
in the kitchen putting something ceramic on the stone-topped
counter. What if you wanted to drag me into our walk-in closet?
What if you wanted to press me up against the front door?
What if you wanted to disturb my sleep? Why didn't you eat
your orange slices?
you ask the boys, while unpacking Friday's lunch.

Then all three handsets in the bedroom ring at once,
you come in to answer, see me reading, hold out the phone—
I'm sleeping, I say, hoping you get my meaning. You
don't. Instead return with the boys' leftover breakfast
and eat it lying next to me. I read you the poem about
touching the door. Isn't it good? I ask. I've got a bad feeling
you're going to want one of the pots in the dishwasher
in the next twenty minutes but they're just not available,
you say.

I can almost see you through the open bathroom door,
through the polka-dotted shower curtain, but mostly
I see your bent elbow when you raise your hand to wash
your hair. When I touch myself the baby quite politely
goes to sleep. Then I'm a belly but no one inside me.
What if you didn't want me to put clothes on? What if
you wanted to sleep with my breast in your hand? What if
you liked poetry? What if you said, There's a closet
in the basement near the laundry room—meet me
there. . . .

Frederick Barthelme

[from Frederick Barthelme's Waveland,Doubleday, 2009]

You get to a point and things that used to mean something don't mean what they used to mean. The game changes. You don't want what you used to want. You don't care about what you used to care about. You don't need what you used to need. The whole world becomes a backdrop, a kind of cartoonish painting at the rear of the stage to which you pay not much attention. You only half listen to what people say, you only half see what's out the window. Sometimes you see people in stores and restaurants and you can't understand how they got there, what they think they're doing, why they're got-up so, why they're trying so hard, what they're after, what they hope for, what they wish. It's impossible to figure these things out and you don't care anyway. You drift through the days. They come and go.

It's funny. You can still go through the motions; you can still do what you've always done — go to work, go to dinner, talk to people — but it rolls off you. If you're lucky you take up with somebody like Greta. She's charming and funny, and you're happy to have a companion whose view of things is not altogether different from your own. You live in her garage apartment for a couple of months, and you imagine things happening, and you manage to make friends with her to a sufficient degree so that you are invited to move into the house. You take up this new position with enthusiasm, but even that is a little manufactured. You don't know what she thinks or what she is planning or what she is looking for or why she's invited you in; but you go, nonetheless, and accept the room that is offered and arrange its parts elegantly, simply. You try not to detract. You try to listen, but sometimes you just slide away in your mind.

Sometimes, when you are putting your arms around this new woman it seems as if you are remembering your role, your lines, as if your ability to put your arms around someone is somehow reduced. Sometimes, when you touch the skin of her face, it only reminds you of having touched the cheek of a person you were once crazy about. You smell her hair. You shut your eyes, smelling her hair. You hold her close, her back to you, smelling her hair. Your eyes closed, your hands on her forearms, on the backs of her hands. You feel her weight against you, and you remember when you felt the weight of someone you were desperate about. In short, you mimic yourself and you wonder, Does she know? It doesn't destroy your connection to her, which is quiet, genuine, caring. Comforting, but lacking, perhaps, in intensity. The wind doesn't mean everything the way it once did. The rain is not shot through with the richest melancholy; it is just rain. This is a substantial loss.

21 December 2009

Ronald Moran

[from Ronald Moran's Waiting, Clemson University Digital, 2009]

English 101

On the first day of a class I never taught,
I asked the students if they ever played softball,
and when no one raised a hand, I told them we'll

play softball next class, and to prove how athletic
I was, I started to throw a ball that wasn't in my hand
and pulled up short, as if throwing nothing

through the air proved to be too complicated, but then
a ball appeared, miraculously, a small ball,
like a golf ball but softer and looking like a baseball,

and, after I threw it, it crossed a body of water,
as on TV when Tiger Woods or someone else hits
a golf ball and it crosses the ocean, landing in Barcelona

or on a back street of Paris and a group of young boys
marvel at its bouncing on the cobblestones,
never coming to a rest, and while mine never went

that far it did glide over a creek like a Frisbee.
Someone in class said that didn't show him much,
so I tried to find a field to play softball at a school

I had never been to before, and even if I found the field,
how could we get there, play the game, and get back
to our next classes in time? Somehow I ended up

with a 10:48 appointment to see the dean, as the first
or last resort, and when I asked his receptionist, How
long is my appointment?
she replied, It's over at 11:00,

which isn't much time to clear up the logistics,
or to ask where's a softball field and my classroom,
which I never found, but my ball just kept on gliding.

20 December 2009

Swamp Fox Passage

Many thanks to Curtis Dunlap for featuring my latest Palmetto Trail poem, Swamp Fox Passage, at Blogging Along Tobacco Road.

19 December 2009

Keith Waldrop

[section FIVE of "Shipwreck in Haven" from Keith Waldrop's Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy,University of California, 2009]

after this, the cold more intense, and the night comes rapidly up
angels in the fall
around a tongue of land, free from trees
awakened by feeling a heavy weight on your feet, something that seems inert and motionless
awestruck manner, as though you expected to find some strange presence behind you
coming through the diamond-paned bay window of your sanctum
a crimson-flowered silk dressing gown, the folds of which I could now describe
deathly pallor overspreading
describing the exact nature of your nightly troubles
discomfort at seeing a surface spoiled
echo and foretaste
the entrance blocked, not only by brambles and nettles, which have to be beaten aside, but by piles of faggots, old boxes, and even refuse
expecting every moment to see the door open and give admission to the original of my detested portrait
fantastic wigs, costumes, other disguises
filling up the width of the street
frequent tussles
the glitter of silver and glass and the subdued lights and cackle of conversation around the dinner table
high-backed carved oak chair
I have omitted in my narration . . .
in a great raftered hall
in a tableau vivant, as an angel, sewn up in tights, with wings on your back
light up your candle and open the window
lines of your dress, with a hint of underthings
looking up, our problem still unsolved
luxurious with heavy silk and rich rococo furniture, all of it much soiled with age
many questions about the stars, of which you gave me my first intelligent idea
meanwhile, the snow, with ominous steadiness, and the wind falls
my weakness for the Ypsilanti Waltz, which I did regard as the most wonderful of compositions
neat strip of fine turf edging the road and running back until the poison of the dead beech leaves kills it under the trees
never venturing farther than a sandy beach, but losing everything at sea
not crawling or creeping, but spreading
not just out of repair, but in a condition of decay
only a foul trick after all
on the face of the judge in the picture, a malignant smile
profound impressions of unearthly horror
rambles and adventures among the rocky banks
the rope of the great alarm bell on the roof, which hangs down
rough horseplay and quarrels
sashes that splinter at a touch
the serpentlike form of the seraphim
something uncertain at work among the monuments
the thing on the bed, slowly shifting
till this particular day has passed through all the seasons of the year
the vicar, who used to tell us the story of Robinson Crusoe
waves and their whelps
while with a sickening revulsion after my terror, I drop half fainting across the end of the bed
with a pair of great greenish eyes shining dimly out within the lattice fronts
with painted carvings of saints and devils, a small galvanic battery, and a microscope

John Berryman

[from John Berryman's The Dream Songs,Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1969]


The Father of the Mill surveyed his falls,
his daughterly race, his flume, his clover, privy, of all
his waterfall, found well.
Rain fell in June like . . . grace? One flopping trout
(a rainbow) make his lunch who took his bait.
Pitch, & Fate flout.

Each cat should seizing private waterfall,
or rent, as Henry do. Seizure is gall,
I guess. Yes;
we nothing own. But we are lying owned.
When last his burning publisher telephoned,
he dying to confess.

The father and the mill purveyed their falls:
grist, grist! Still, stamping on Fate,
he lauded his lady;
ladies. Waders were treble at his end
or ends. The fool danced in the waterfall
losing his footing, ready.

18 December 2009

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

[from Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon's Open Interval,University of Pittsburgh, 2009]

The Buffet Dream

In the buffet dream this is what I want—;
Everything I can swallow:
What is hot—: What is cooked—: What is sweet—:
What will fit on my plate—: What will drive me—from sleep
with longing—: This is hunger:—
before the first bite crosses my tongue, waking.

The colors of the dream are there at seventeen, each day waking
to promise of silk and open sky—: the gift of truancy: who doesn't
flutter and slap of wind and parachute, foreign men, falling from
    Icarus' heights? A girl's hunger
for their sweat and the vowels they swallow:
Their neon canopies, their endless drifting, the pull of sleep:—
I could taste everything: the whole of this world: the idea—sweet

as leaving home, as being where I am not supposed to be, sweet
as desserts in the dream—: silver bowls of fresh berries and
    zabaglione:— as waking,
just once, to bright lemon tarts with single sprigs of mint someplace
    where sleep
has wrought miracles. Seventeen—: coarse salt of want
on my tongue, I set out for the territories, hope to swallow
all, at least—: every drop zone I can find—: a black girl on the river

—as free as that. I cannot leave this river—: Hunger
snakes along its slumbery route, slow as sweet
syrup, seeks low ground, overflows, swallows
a field, seeps into its green and makes it swampy, waking
the sticky, spongy air, summer's silty edge, wanton,
dripping:— a humid decade's night sweat, a constant of sleep,

until I am in Africa. In Cameroon, une voluntaire, sleep-
deprived, listening to the dogs scratch hunger
out on Bafoussam's abundant trash piles, I want
the nineteen-year-old boy I snatched like a muddy reed from some
yielding bank, four years back, dreaming satiety, waking,
twenty-eight, purple-mouthed from boxed wine and desire. Swallow

the St. Johns, the Susquehanna, swallow the Maury, the Lom and
    Djerem, swallow
the Atlantic you crossed chasing bright-dyed dandelion seeds to find
a glass display case of napoleons and air-pies, an éclair filled with
Empty-handed on its ever-rocking water bed, hunger
waits you out, weights you. It's possible you've tasted every sweet
nothing your mind can offer, that delicious list you wanted

licked down to nothing, swallowed. Freedom—: the fancy-cakes
designed, decked out in fondant ribbons. Sleep: a night's mouth filled
    with something sweet:—
what each morning, waking, you know you will still want.

17 December 2009

Walt Whitman

[from David S. Reynolds's Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography,Alfred A. Knopf, 1995]

That the middle-class Victorian parlor could accept naturally Whitman's "Calamus" poems is suggested by Ernest Rhys's Leaves of Grass: The Poems of Walt Whitman (1886) and Arthur Stedman's 1892 collection of Whitman's Selected Poems. Like [Elizabeth Porter] Gould, these other two editors carefully excluded the "amative" poems and passages they thought might offend middle-class readers. To avoid sex, Rhys omitted "Song of Myself" and all the "Children of Adam" poems. ("I am willing," wrote Whitman of the Rhys volume, despite his distaste for expurgation.) Stedman, likewise, omitted "Children of Adam" and heavily edited "Song of Myself." Both volumes emphasized the Whitman poems that were safely religious and patriotic. Significantly, many of the "Calamus" poems were deemed conventional enough to remain in these scrubbed, polite volumes. In fact, Rhys included nearly the whole "Calamus" sequence, and Stedman selected several, including the loving "When I Heard at the Close of Day" and "Whoever You Are Holding My Hand." That is, comradely love was still considered close to mainstream conventions. . . .

The term "homosexual," introduced in English in the 1890s and not used in the New York Times until 1926, did not gain widespread cultural use until the 1930s. In the meantime, the idea of sexual identity was embattled. Some who discussed Whitman in this context did not connect him with homosexuality. His close friend Edward Carpenter, who regarded the term "homosexual" as a monstrous combination of Greek and Latin (he preferred "homogenic"), believed, like [John Addington] Symonds, that Whitman was attempting to restore pure, chivalric Greek love as a social institution. To clear Whitman of what he called "morbidity," he cited a comment by Dr. Beverly Drinkard that Whitman had "the most natural habits, bases, and organization he had ever seen."

The British sexologist Havelock Ellis, who corresponded with Whitman and knew his work well, saw in Whitman, a "latent and unconscious" homosexual instinct that was so handled that it could provide a model for sexual inverts. In his book Sexual Inversion Ellis argued that reading Whitman could help make an invert "healthy, self-restrained, and self-respecting," teaching "dignity, temperance, even chastity" like the Greeks. Ellis wrote: "The 'manly love' celebrated by Walt Whitman furnishes a wholesome and robust ideal to the invert who is insensitive to normal ideals." With Whitman's help, Ellis, the invert can learn "self-restraint and self-culture," particularly important because, in Ellis's eyes, "it is the ideal of chastity, rather than of normal sexuality, which the congenital invert should hold before his eyes."

When funneled back into medical circles, then, Whitman's treatment of same-sex love was seen mainly as a means of "controlling" or "elevating" homosexual desires instead of giving them unbridled expression.

09 December 2009

torqued enjambment

[consideration of a William Carlos Williams poem from "Syntax in Rutherford," a chapter in Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era, University of California, 1971]

Any word at all:


A "noun." And what happens if we affix the article is highly mysterious:

              the cat—

for the grammarians' distinction — definite article for the particular, indefinite for the general — is meant to operate between speakers, live persons in a real place who already know, because they are talking about it, which cat is "the cat": "Have you put out the cat?" But typed on a sheet of paper as if to designate some one cat though we cannot identify him, the article performs in pure abstraction a gesture of as-if-specifying: something operative not in the kitchen or the garden but in a language field, where on an invisible string a knot has been tied. (A poem is a machine made out of words.) The invisible string is an infinity of cats; the knot, the cat.

Tense the string:

              As the cat

— an exact structure, empty but located, as asymptotes locate a hyperbola. Empty but torqued: the spine braces against an anticipated swing: there will be two actions, two doings, parallel and related; hence two verbs, the first to be expected immediately.

              As the cat
              climbed over
              the top of
              the jamcloset
              first . . .

— we are braced, now, for the second verb; but the sentence has other business, and we are given instead a distinction:

              first the right

— a clarification, but the verb is still deferred; meanwhile "first" has generated a new substructure for the sentence to complete. First, hence second; do we next encounter "second" or some surrogate?? No, we encounter


— an adverb as precariously placed as the cat's forefoot. And at last, a structure is acknowledged; "first" receives its answer:


"First the right forefoot, then" — the left?

              then the hind

Though our local foreseeings are inaccurate, we remain attentive, and at last comes the verb we have so long anticipated, even as the cat, once embarked on this expedition, has anticipated, movement by movement, responsive solidities:

              first the right
              then the hind
              stepped down

This ideal cat, this verbal cat, this cat of linguistic torsions has (though "carefully") stepped down not onto but "into" —

              into the pit of

worse and worse

              the empty

— ?


Verbal flowerpots are as hollow and frangible as verbal cats are agile. There is no more: we have examined two steps in slow motion, and if the front foot has been where the hind foot goes, we can feel as secure in the paradigm as we can in the knowledge that two subjects are competent to govern one verb. This structure of 27 words commenced off balance — "As" — and closes on a resolution of achievement and precariousness — "flowerpot." It is one sinuous suspended sentence, feeling its way and never fumbling. Its gestures raise anticipatory tensions, its economy dislodges nothing. The cat is as much an emblem of the sentence as the sentence is of the cat. It is headed "Poem."

07 December 2009


[from Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Bhagavad Gita, Three Rivers, 2000]


Driven by insatiable lusts,
drunk on the arrogance of power,
hypocritical, deluded,
their actions foul with self-seeking,

tormented by a vast anxiety
that continues until their death,
convinced that the gratification
of desire is life's sole aim,

bound by a hundred shackles
of hope, enslaved by their greed,
they squander their time dishonestly
piling up mountains of wealth.

05 December 2009

Pound and Sound

[Arnaut Daniel's verse in Provençal followed by Ezra Pound's translation from Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era, University of California, 1971]

Quan lo rossinhols escria
Ab sa par la nueg e·l dia,
Yeu suy ab ma bell' amia
              Jos la flor
Tro la gaita de la tor
Estria: drutz, al levar!
Qu'ieu vey l'alba e·l jorn clar.

When the Nightingale to his mate
Sings day-long and night late
My love and I keep state
       In bower,
       In flower,
       'Till the watchman on the tower
           "Up! Thou rascal, Rise,
           I see the white
                         And the night

03 December 2009

Ezra Pound

[from Ezra Pound's The Cantos, New Directions, 1996]

XVI [excerpt]

And before hell mouth; dry plain
                       and two mountains;
On the one mountain, a running form,
                       and another
In the turn of the hill; in hard steel
The road like a slow screw’s thread,
The angle almost imperceptible,
            so that the circuit seemed hardly to rise;
And the running form, naked, Blake,
Shouting, whirling his arms, the swift limbs,
Howling against the evil,
            his eyes rolling,
Whirling like flaming cart wheels,
            and his head held backward to gaze on the evil
As he ran from it,
            to be hid by the steel mountain,
And when he showed again from the north side;
            his eyes blazing toward hell mouth,
His neck forward,
            and like him Peire Cardinal.
And in the west mountain, Il Fiorentino,
Seeing hell in his mirror,
            and lo Sordels
Looking on it in his shield;
And Augustine, gazing toward the invisible.

28 November 2009

Christian Wiman

[from Christian Wiman's Hard Night, Copper Canyon, 2005]

[from "Reading Herodotus"]

Confusion is to be born
into a people without names or dreams
to whom the dead must come in the daylight —
brief faces in the clouds, traces of familiar dust
to which you cannot call out, of which you cannot speak

"Reading Herodotus"

[from "The Funeral"]

the solemnity with which each head is bowed
as one by one, and row by row, they lose
themselves to a keen indigenous grief
that binds them cry to cry and tear to tear,
until its binding is its own relief

"The Funeral"

25 November 2009

Paula Bohince

[from Paula Bohince's Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods, Sarabande, 2008]


Abdomen small as a mole
on a cheek, as magnetic, but mostly near
nothing — transparent limbs
stilt-walking through the cracked-open window and into
the sunroom where Father,
thin as his mattress, tosses on the bony cot.

Longlegs, drawn by such heat
and sweat, wracked inhales,
exhales, tumbles toward his face,

a frail monster unafraid of the lingering smell
of hand-fed pigeons, the kerosene jug's
glistening mouth.

Soon this will all be over, soon . . .

Button at my throat, ruffle
at my feet, I look to its shadow long on the sheet,
then to its body,
a kernel, something to be crushed,

woods' chill seeping in
over all I cannot touch: the unlovely man, the whistle
coming through time, the pond
I'd run from, into his arms.

Emily Wilson

[from Emily Wilson's Micrographia, Iowa, 2009]

Sunset: Rouen?

Just to the left and down from
the central engagements
— clock-tower, vaults of the long mauve bridge
sun and its correlate
swashes come back
to prime, spurred
cathedral, ceding
carmine, chartreuse up against it.
The horses stand in their traces.
Their wagon floats at the dark wharf-fringe.
Fused through the loads, watermarks, persons or poles,
soldered spots that are shadows
or breaks at the junctures of reeds,
scarcely at home in themselves, stationing there,
forced to make reddish banks red
they have been horses —
the fixing of them in grit-grass —
strangely set off.
Ramparts ruck over the underside slips.
What are they waiting for?
The edge of the picture unsettles,
tricks itself forth
like the passage in which is restored
your miniature boy
ritually combed and folded.
A few fawn strokes still to be
harbored as horses.

23 November 2009

Toi Derricotte

[from Toi Derricotte's The Empress of the Death House, Lotus, 1991]

The Feeding

My grandmother
haunted the halls
above Webster's Funeral
Home like a red-
gowned ghost. Til dawn
I'd see her spectral
form — henna-hair
blown back,
green eyes:

She was proud.
Like God,
I swore I'd love her.
At night we whispered
how we hated mother
and wished that I could
live with her.

In the morning while she slept,
I'd pluck
costume diamonds
form a heart-shaped chest,
try her tortoise combs
and hairpins in my hair.
She'd wake
and take me to her bed.

Maroon-quilted, eider-downed,
I drowned.
Rocking on her wasted breast,
I'd hear her tell me
how she nursed my father
til he was old enough to ask.

Then, she'd draw me
to her — ask me
if she still had milk.
Yes. I said, yes.
Feeding on the sapless
even now
the taste of emptiness
weights my mouth.

22 November 2009

Stephanie Anderson

[from Stephanie Anderson's In the Particular Particular, New Michigan Press, 2007]

Winter Slaughter

My omnivore, we will eat all but
squeal. I brought you home head-first
in sack, sight-weak one. You barged

scrap-fed with acorn and milk.
Grew long in your board slab
pen. I was glad you could not

see the gun as I sharpened the sticking
knives, skinning knives. In February —
crushing rosin under brick and iron.

We boil water over tires; tub-cradle you
and rub with chains. Hand scrape your nooks,
gaff the hoofs, work in the lime.

At last, you hang burnished and clean.
When I go to fill signal lanterns, I will pocket
you paper-wrapped and larded.

21 November 2009

Marilyn Hacker

[from "A Conversation with Marilyn Hacker," an Annie Finch interview of Marilyn Hacker, in Multiformalisms: Postmodern Poetics of Form, eds. Annie Finch and Susan M. Schultz, Textos, 2008]

MH: When Tom Disch and I were doing sonnets, we were doing Shakespearean sonnets where, except for the couplet, you were rhyming with yourself. I wrote the a line and he would write the b line; however, you didn't see the line that was going before yours, you were just told by the other person that "I wrote a line that ends with a preposition indicating direction," or "I have given a proper noun. Follow it with a verb." or "I have given a prepositional phrase that requires a direct object. Provied a direct object." And go on from there. For the couplet, whoever wrote the first line had to give the second person the rhyme. The couplet of one of these sonnets -- and one person wrote one line and the other person wrote the second line without having seen the other line was, "The road reels by in millions of white flashes / like checks from out of state that no one cashes," which I think is a great American couplet. It's published in a tiny little chapbook that we brought out, called Highway Sandwiches.

17 November 2009

John Berryman

[a description of John Berryman writing "Homage to Mistress Bradstreet" from Paul Mariani's Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman, William Morrow, 1990]

Berryman began writing the poem at white heat. Each day he went to his studio to write a single stanza: no more, no less. By then he had hundreds of detached lines and notes, and he worked each piece over, stitching lines together into eight-line stanzas on an erasable, glassine-covered wax pad. He placed the fragments he already had beneath the glassine and then worked at connecting his lines and revising each stanza. At lunchtime he descended to his apartment with his new stanza and read it over and over to Eileen, then returned to the studio to work at it again. At dinner, elated and exhausted, he read the revised stanza to her again.

16 November 2009

Joshua Poteat

[from Joshua Poteat's Ornithologies, Anhinga, 2006]

The Angels Continue Turning the Wheels of the Universe Despite Their Ugly Souls
(Malvern Hill Battleground)
                                 — after Alice Aycock

There is truth in the phrase, the dead are at ease under the fields.

Autumn is what seizes it. A field of dried cotton stalks
                 have a grace in the wind only the dead can love,
and so, belief comes simple, rendering not a season
                 but stalk against stalk,

poor cousin-song of crickets,
                 poor furrow-in-the-gut, little nothing-at-all.

At least it will snow soon, goes the cotton's rattled melody,
                 and this field beyond the city, flooded by night,
turns blue in the first frost as the ghosts of past crops
                 bridle upon it.

I give the field ghosts, and the wind eggs them on —
                 corn and sweet potato, tobacco and bean —
hovering the mule-plough of two hundred years.

So much for truth.

It's the least I can do since I cannot for the life of me
                 think of anything but the thin curtains of a hospital room
and an X-ray of my crooked spine pinned to a wall of light,

the sweet milk of vertebrae, my own skull
                 frowning back at me, such a cold cup of jaw,
so white I could have easily drunk myself.

What a desire, to take one's self in, to unravel
                 the body's red yarn shapes and deceive the plague
of boundless hunger, to imagine this cotton field as bone
                 ready for the gin, rib and wrist and collar,

all tenderhearted stars,
                 inexact, held up to the light of no moon, no cloud.

This is me scattered in the furrows, I thought.
This is me, marrowless and fluff, grub-eaten.

I don't believe in much. Not the descent and re-ascent
                 of the soul . . . the palace of the kingdom of the dead . . .

So much for desire.

I have seen those X-rays of Velasquez, the hidden layers
                 illuminated to reveal six ghost-versions of hands along the rim
of an egg bowl, six different plates of fish and garlic,
                 a dwarf's blind face formed into the severed head of a pig,
then back to a dwarf, leaving the pig's wondrous eyes.

A bird later becomes a peach in the mouth of a jug,
                 and this is how I feel about the world at the moment.

Troppo vero, said Pope Innocent in a letter
                 to Velasquez of his portraits. Too faithful.

Representation is all we are in the end, I guess, and then some.

Charred ivory: muller stone: horse-hair:
                 white lead: madder: massicot.

This is me.

It is almost winter, here in the leftover cotton
                 that once held the thousand luminous angels of desire
as they curled inward towards a truth

unlike any flame they had seen.

This must be how the soldiers slept,
                 with the night all around them
and their bodies knowing where it was.

And this must be how the deer moved
                 over the fields long after the battle, drinking frost
from the eyes of the dead with their small pink tongues.

Oh dwarf, oh king, oh skeleton of mine,
                 will I ever feel your wings between my hands again?

13 November 2009

Kate Greenstreet

[from Kate Greenstreet's case sensitive, Ahsahta, 2006]

Salt (excerpt)

2 [was known to have been made]

She was on the medicine for grief.
"Even if they don't die, it doesn't help much."

Grit of salt around her chair.
Basically, a question you have to ask yourself.

Can you shut the eye with something in it and continue?
"Most commonly, this transformation takes

the form of disappearances
of persons."

What do we share
that can help us?

"In the very distant

even older than light."

destiny. A kind of song. Escape

with what you are. Walking,
talking, for a thousand miles . . .

"Some may not need gold, but who
does not need salt?" And sometime after,

felt the need to write.
Wherewith will it be salted?

Why bring it up again? Red eyes,
read for meaning.

The buried ring, marked map, "the consolation
of religion."

Things go together because they are together.
It's a challenge to the spirit that cleans the spirit.

Snow on the cold side
of the fence.

Isn't that the definition
of sense?

12 November 2009

Ingeborg Bachman

[from Ingeborg Bachmann's Darkness Spoken: The Collected Poems, tr. Peter Filkins, Zephyr, 2006]

March Stars

Still it's too early for sowing. Fields
surface in rain, March stars appear.
Like an afterthought, the universe submits
to familiar equations, such as the light
that falls but leaves the snow untouched.

Under the snow there will also be dust
and, what doesn't disintegrate, the dust's
later nourishment. O wind, picking up.
Again the plows rip open the darkness.
Each new day will want to be longer.

It's on long days that we are sown,
unasked, in those neat and crooked rows,
as stars sink away above. In fields
we thrive or rot without a choice,
submitting to rain and also at last the light

09 November 2009

C. P. Cavafy

[from C. P. Cavafy's The Unfinished Poems, translated by Daniel Mendelsohn, Alfred A. Knopf, 2009]

Antiochus the Cyzicene

The people of Syria put up with him:
as long as someone stronger doesn't come along.
And what is "Syria"? It barely comes to half;
what with the little kingdoms, with John Hyrcanus,
with the cities that are declaring their independence.

It seems the realm once began, the historians say,
at the Aegean and went right up to India.
From the Aegean right up to India! Patience.
Let's have a look at those puppets,
the animals he's brought us.

08 November 2009

Mary Jo Bang

[from Mary Jo Bang's The Bride of E, Graywolf, 2009]

Death and Disappearance

A plague. The population shaped by the spread.
The meeting with mammals whose bones are not found
Upright anymore. The slow pandemic and its subsequent
Effect. The unusually high rate of devastation.

Winter and spring. Take any year and it's possible to infer
The purple spots on abdomen or limbs.
The overwhelming priority. The impoverishment with
Every outbreak. The corpses in recurrent waves.

A pyre burning the molecular biology
Of the virulent strain and taking with it the haunting evocation
Of a face. A cluster of cases provides whatever
With no knowledge of exactly how. With no possible

Undermining flowering of certainty. The dark outsider status
Of the mechanical animal. Gear churn. Lung bellow.
A foot thumping in the rib cage. Back and forth.
The limited skills for finding what can no longer be seen.

Only a surround where one feels seriously cheated.
As if beat handily. As if exploited. As if a wide variety of poses
That resemble manikins. The fascinating nature of
The stratagems of staggering forward with exhaustion

Into the final further line of inquiry.
The body becoming meat and bone and the iconographic
Culture saturated with reaction. The subject itself
Now manifested in any number of ways as a formless arc.

Swaddled in the basic fact of layers of purpose
That simply become profoundly brutal. The aura escaping
Description except as an empire of trouble where cells line up
To meet the edge where the car takes the body away.

07 November 2009

Ana Božičević

[from Ana Božičević's Stars of the Night Commute, Tarpaulin Sky, 2009]

Spoken by a Piece of Gum on the Open-Air Platform

Comes a thing better
than names: this piece of wire
angling from the trash-yard door:

a mobile, a thinness! Early on,
we find out, via stomach:
it's better to be green, or wire, or

gum. Our landscape is all thrust:
skyscrapers. Avalanche. Even
Sebastian —     — Sorry,

that name's an
water bottle. Someday its sound

will be emblem
of my temperance. But now?
it's sorrow.

05 November 2009

Sherman Alexie

[from Sherman Alexie's Face, Hanging Loose, 2009]

The Sum of His Parts

Driving home, I ran over a bull snake
And tore it into three pieces.

I didn't mean to kill the thing.
I'd thought it was the thin shadow

Of a telephone pole stretched across the road.
I realized it was a snake

Only after I'd run it over.
Thump, thump:

That's the percussion
Of car tires and snake.

After I ran over it, I stopped,
Left the car idling,

And walked back
To the three pieces of snake.

In death-shock, the head and tail
Thrashed separately

Against the pavement
That had been its warm rock.

The middle piece, strange
And disconnected, did not move.

I said a prayer
To the Snake God,

And wondered if such a God exists.
That's theology.

If the Snake God does exist,
Then it is likely the same

As every other God:

I didn't want the snake's body to be insulted
By other cars and their drivers,

So I dragged the tail off the road to the west
And the head off the road to the east,

But could not touch the middle piece
Because it was flattened and gory.

Satisfied that I'd shown the snake
Enough respect, I drove away.

But two miles up the road, I turned
Around and traveled back to the snake.

I don't know if there is a Snake Heaven,
But I didn't want the snake to suffer

because of my doubts.
If the snake's three pieces arrived

separately in Heaven,
Would any of them be able to find the others?

I dragged the tail and middle
Across the road and laid them beside the head

Because snake + snake + snake = snake.

Jane Kenyon

[from Jane Kenyon's Otherwise, Graywolf, 1996]

From the Back Steps

A bird begins to sing,
hesitates, like a carpenter
pausing to straighten a nail, then
begins again.
The cat lolls in the shade
under the parked car, his head
in the wheel's path.
I bury the thing I love.

But the cat continues to lie
comfortably, right where he is,
and no one will move the car.
My own violence falls away
like paint peeling from a wall.
I am choosing a new color
to paint my house, though I'm still
not sure what the color will be.

Afternoon in the House

It's quiet here. The cats
sprawl, each
in a favored place.
The geranium leans this way
to see if I'm writing about her:
head all petals, brown
stalks, and those green fans.
So you see,
I am writing about you.

I turn on the radio. Wrong.
Let's not have any noise
in this room, except
the sound of a voice reading a poem.
The cats request
The Meadow Mouse, by Theodore Roethke.

The house settles down on its haunches
for a doze.
I know you are with me, plants,
and cats -- and even so, I'm frightened,
sitting in the middle of perfect possibility.

04 November 2009

Douglas Oliver

[from Douglas Oliver's Three Variations on the Theme of Harm, Paladin, 1990]

The Heron

I talk only of voices either real or virtual in my ear:
of shadows, only those that pass over islands' sunny turf
vivid to my eye. But when I come to all my birds,
all I've ever seen, they are too many. I talk of things unseen.

Together, they would pack the sky like moving embroidery
in the white silks, browns and blacks of their great tribe,
endless litters of puppies writhing,
a heavenly roof alive but no progress of flight in it.

Every memory adds to this intricate plot;
starting up redshanks first, and they bank, flashing white,
across a sepia estuary where I felt freedom
in watching their undulating patterns on the air.

They flight down but hold at mid-height: horizontal
stick puppets of the Styx. The black light whitens
with the harmonious wings of swan formations,
the day cast over with their bright feathering.

Behind the swans the sky absolutely fills with starlings
homing to roost as once I saw them over Stonehenge;
gulls flock up and hold there, and brown passeriformes
spring between airspaces and stop of invisible branches.

Millions of birds, crows and daws, teal,
quicker wing-beated than wigeon, among mallard hordes;
swifts print arrows on the pulsating featheriness;
the sky is covered over with the puppy litters.

I can't tell you all the names; I'm worried
about the birds rabbling the sky. D'you suppose
I can avoid even the dusty body of every sparrow,
or every sparrow hawk flipping over a thicket?

Unseen, this nature crowds my mind. If there's pulsation,
it's disturbing; if stasis it's a painting
and all the life goes out; but any sudden switch
between pulse and the static is schizophrenic.

In the foreground of the multifarious flights
one talismanic bird, a heron, lifts to the top
of its single leg and takes off like an umbrella.
Fluff in a corner of the past becomes grey flame.

Its shoulders unshackle and heave, legs become the addendum,
the beak stabs out purposefully from the sunken neck.
It sails. In this flight's brevity,
I find what lives for me among all the dead songs.

03 November 2009

Louise Gluck

[from Louise Gluck's A Village Life, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009]


He steals sometimes, because they don't have their own tree
and he loves fruit. Not steals exactly —
he pretends he's an animal; he eats off the ground,
as the animals would eat. This is what he tells the priest,
that he doesn't think it should be a sin to take what would just lie there and rot,
this year like every other year.

As a man, as a human being, the priest agrees with the boy,
but as a priest he chastises him, though the penance is light,
so as to not kill off imagination: what he'd give
to a much younger boy who took something that wasn't his.

But the boy objects. He's willing to do the penance
because he likes the priest, but he refuses to believe that Jesus
gave this fig tree to this woman; he wants to know
what Jesus does with all the money he gets from real estate,
not just in this village but in the whole country.

Partly he's joking but partly he's serious
and the priest gets irritated — he's out of his depth with this boy,
he can't explain that though Christ doesn't deal in property,
still the fig tree belongs to the woman, even if she never picks the figs.
Perhaps one day, with the boy's encouragement,
the woman will become a saint and share her fig tree and her big house with strangers,
but for the moment she's a human being whose ancestors built this house.

The priest is pleased to have moved the conversation away from money,
which makes him nervous, and back to words like family or tradition,
where he feels more secure. The boy stares at him —
he knows perfectly well the ways in which he's taken advantage of a senile old lady,
the ways he's tried to charm the priest, to impress him. But he despises
speeches like the one beginning now;
he wants to taunt the priest with his own flight: if he loves family so much,
why didn't the priest marry as his parents married, continue the line from which he came.

But he's silent. The words that mean there will be
no questioning, no trying to reason — those words have been uttered.
"Thank you, Father," he says.

22 October 2009

David Bromige

[from David Bromige's Desire: Selected Poems, 1963-1987, Dutton, 1989]

The Romance of the Automobile

It's dark. But there's a moon. You're lonely.
You've got me. You can't stay where you are.
You don't give me a thought, & climb inside
turn me on, & off we go,
me all around you, moving you
while you sit still, up & down
the ground I keep you lifted from,
across the distance that your friends call you.

Though I can't see
with these things much like eyes
I let you find the way.
Let you see what you might hit & miss.
Let you feel you're in control.
Let you make me go so fast
you can't control me quite as well,
or maybe not at all.
So I get you where you go.

And if it's where you planned,
I've sheltered you from what came down,
proved useful, helped save a life maybe,
unless someone like you got in our way.

You've felt a strength, obeying me
while free to think of things along the way.
An irritation or anxiety,
if something's wrong with me,
that is, if I need fixing.

And here we are. You can get out,
and stretch, as though to throw me off,
as though I were around you, yet
I'm evidently not. You've turned me off,
locked me up, pocketed the key
and left me in the dark.
You've got me where you want me.
As if I were a car.

Elizabeth Carothers Herron

[from Elizabeth Carothers Herron's In the Pockets of the Night, 1994]


Bring your ladder. We'll set up a sky,
a mountain in the house. Blue rain
will water the shag rug. Moonlight will spill
and slant through the window
so the bed is milk-white and warm and wet
and I'll have to swim in the covers
sleeping a dream of rainbow and steelhead
spawning. I'll hear the last

of summer whisper holy and familiar names:
coyote bush, sticky monkey flower,
gravenstein, blackberry,
salmon berry, tarweed, quince.
And behind the wind
the warm breath of Indian Summer
autumn on her heels, will puff a haze
of golden heat over the swimming bed, the soaked

shag. Whispers of zucchini squash and roses,
liquid amber turning her leaves with a sweet shudder
Whispers of longer nights and last fling holidays.
Whispers of blacktail buck huffing
around elusive does, and squirrels
stashing the seeds of cones high
in winter hollows. All this
when you cut out the wall and wait
before you put the window in! Your legs
will be rubbery with the rush of it,
the flood of it, the swell and sigh of what
we hardly hear inside. All this, if you
take your big saw and your hammer,
your catspaw and wedge, up the ladder
into my room.

20 October 2009

Taha Muhammad Ali

[from Taha Muhammad Ali's So What: New & Selected Poems, translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin, 1971-2005], Copper Canyon, 2006]


Our traces have all been erased,
our impressions swept away —
and all the remains have been effaced . . .
there isn't a single sign
left to guide us
or show us a thing.
The age has grown old,
the days long,
and I, if not for the lock of your hair,
auburn as the nectar of carob,
and soft as the scent of silk
that was here before,
dozing like Arabian jasmine,
shimmering like the gleam of dawn,
pulsing like a star —
I, if not for that lock of camphor,
would not feel a thing
linking me
to this land.

This land is a traitor
and can't be trusted.
This land doesn't remember love.
This land is a whore
holding out a hand to the years,
as it manages a ballroom
on the harbor pier —
it laughs in every language
and bit by bit, with its hip,
feeds all who come to it.

This land denies,
cheats, and betrays us;
its dust can't bear us
and grumbles about us —
resents and detests us.
Its newcomers,
sailors, and usurpers,
uproot the backyard gardens,
burying the trees.

They keep us from looking too long
at the anemone blossom and cyclamen,
and won't allow us to touch the herbs,
the wild artichoke and chicory.

Our land makes love to the sailors
and strips naked before the newcomers;
it rests its head along the usurper's thigh,
is disgraced and defiled in its sundry accents;
there seems to be nothing that would bind it to us,
and I — if not for the lock of your hair,
auburn as the nectar of carob,
and soft as the scent of silk,
if not for the camphor,
if not for the musk and the sweet basil,
if not for the ambergris —
I would not know it,
and would not love it,
and would not go near it.

Your braid
is the only thing
linking me, like a noose, to this whore.


19 October 2009

Charles Olson

[from Charles Olson's The Maximus Poems, University of California, 1983]

"at the boundary of the mighty world" H. (T) 620 foll.

                    Now Called Gravel Hill -- dogs eat

                    Gravelly hill 'father' Pelops otherwise known as
Mud Face founder of
Dogtown. That sort of 'reason': leave things alone.
As it is there isn't a single thing isn't an opportunity
for some 'alert' person, including practically everybody
by the 'greed', that, they are 'alive', therefore. Etc.
That, in fact, there are 'conditions'. Gravelly Hill
or any sort of situation for improvement, when
the Earth was properly regarded as a 'garden
tenement messuage orchard and if this is nostalgia
let you take a breath of April showers
let's us reason how is the dampness in your
nasal passage -- but I have had lunch
in this 'pasture' (B. Ellery to
                    George Girdler Smith
                          1799, for
                            £ 150)

'the town'
sitting there like
the Memphite lord of
all Creation

with my back -- with Dogtown
over the Crown of
gravelly hill

It is not bad
to be pissed off

where there is any
condition imposed, by whomever, no matter how close

quid pro quo
get out. Gravelly Hill says
leave me be, I am contingent, the end of the world
is the borders
of my being

I can even tell you
where I run out; and you can find
out. I lie here
so many feet up
from the end of an old creek
which used to run off
the Otter ponds. There is a bridge
of old heavy slab stones
still crossing the creek on
the 'Back Road' about three rods
from where I do end northerly, and from my Crown
you may observe, in fact Jeremiah Millett's
generous pasture
which, in fact, in the first 'house'
(of Dogtown) is a part of the slide of
my back, to the East: it isn't so decisive
how one thing does end
and another begin to be very obviously dull about it
I should like to take the time to be dull
there is obviously much to be done and the fire department
rushed up here one day -- they called it
Bull Field in the newspaper -- when just that
side of me I am talking about,
which belonged to Jeremiah Millett
and rises up rather sharply
-- it became Mr Pulsifer's and then,
1799, the property of the town
of Gloucester -- was burned off.
My point is, the end of myself,
happens, on the east side (Erechthonios)
to be the beginning of another set
of circumstance. The road,
which has gone aroundme, swings
just beyond where Jeremiah Millett had his house
and there's a big rock about ends my being,
properly, swings
to the northeast, and makes its way
generally staying northeast in direction
to Dogtown's Square or the rear of
William Smallman's
house where rocks pile up
darkness, in a cleft in the earth
made of a perfect pavement
                    Dogtown Square
of rocks alone March, the holy month
                     (the holy month,
of nothing but black granite turned
every piece,
downward, to darkness,
to chill and darkness. From which the height above it even
in such a fearful congery
with a dominant rock like a small mountain
above the Hellmouth the back of Smallmans is
that this source and end of the way from the town into
the woods is only -- as I am the beginning, and Gaia's
child -- katavothra. Here you enter
darkness. Far away from me, to the northeast,
and higher than I, you enter
the Mount,
which looks merry,
and you go up into it
feels the very same as the corner
where the rocks all are
even smoking a cigarette on the mount
nothing around you, not even the sky
relieves the pressure of this declivity
which is so rich and packed.
It is Hell's mouth
where Dogtown ends
(on the lower
of two roads into
the woods.
I am the beginning
on this side
nearest the town
and it -- this paved hole in the earth
is the end (boundary

17 October 2009

Paul Guest

[from Paul Guest's Notes for My Body Double, University of Nebraska, 2007]

At Last

All day I wanted, I ached, to tell
you of the rabbit dead in the road
and how the whole day I marked
time with its evisceration —
if at first I had touched its flank
or its sleek ears tucked back,
I would have taken the last measure
of its warmth. The ghost
of its abortive bound would be near.
And later when its torso
began to show, when its pelt was peeled
and its innards unspooled,
I didn't grieve. Flies had come
and in their noise, in their work,
they glittered. The flesh
seemed to sink with the sun
and I thought to tell you
that night at the door,
taking whatever you held
into my arms, at last I've kept
vigil over something,
over ruin, come see, come see, come see.

In the cuff of the wind
white petals sloughed
from the branches of the gnarled dogwood,
the tree I was taught
Christ's cross was cut from.
If once I believed
in so much holy ruin,
there was none to be found there.
And this was right.
In the matted entrails
of the slaughtered,
whoever thought to know the future
in the slick, wet coils
never saw me keeping watch
in the failing light
for the dead to vanish and you to appear.

11 October 2009

H. D.

[from H. D.'s Collected Poems, 1912-1944, New Directions, 1986]

Hermes of the Ways

The hard sand breaks,
and the grains of it
are clear as wine.

Far off over the leagues of it,
the wind,
playing on the wide shore,
piles little ridges,
and the great waves
break over it.

But more than the many-foamed ways
of the sea,
I know him
of the triple path-ways,
who awaits.

facing three ways,
welcoming wayfarers,
he whom the sea-orchard
shelters from the west,
from the east
weathers sea-wind;
fronts the great dunes.

Wind rushes
over the dunes,
and the coarse, salt-crusted grass

it whips round my ankles!


Small is
this white stream,
flowing below ground
from the poplar-shaded hill,
but the water is sweet.

Apples on the small trees
are hard,
too small,
too late ripened
by a desperate sun
that struggles through sea-mist.

The boughs of the trees
are twisted
by many bafflings;
twisted are
the small-leafed boughs.

But the shadow of them
is not the shadow of the mast head
nor of the torn sails.

Hermes, Hermes,
the great sea foamed,
gnashed its teeth about me;
but you have waited,
where sea-grass tangles with

10 October 2009

Robert Bly

[from Robert Bly's My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy, Harper Collins, 2005]

Hiding in a Drop of Water

It is early morning, and death has forgotten us for
A while. Darkness owns the house, but I am alive.
I am ready to praise all the great musicians.

Whatever happens to me will also happen to you.
Surely you must have realized this from hearing
The way the strings cry out no matter who hits them.

From the great oak trees in the yard in October,
Leaves fall for hours each day. Every night
A thousand wrinkled faces look up at the stars.

Still we know that at any second the soul can stand
Up and start across the desert, as when Rabia ended up
Riding on a resurrected donkey toward the Meeting.

It is this reaching toward the Kaaba that keeps us glad.
It is this way of hiding inside a drop of water
That lets the hidden face become visible to everyone.

Gautama said that when the Great Ferris Wheel
Stops turning, you will still be way up
There, swinging in your seat and laughing.

09 October 2009

Eknath Easwaran

[from Eknath Easwaran's The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living, Volume 3: To Love Is to Know Me, Nilgiri, 1988]

Living in separateness means being dominated by private urges, trying to have our own way and do only what we like, unable to see what cries out to be done for the welfare of the world around us. When this darkness becomes deep enough, we can't see which direction to go; we will always be losing our way, never coming out at all. When we decide to say no to private, personal urges, we start to enter a world of light where the path is clear. We know where we are going, and we can travel safely and surely.

03 October 2009

Barbara Guest

[from Barbara Guest's Collected Poems, ed. Hadley Haden Guest, Wesleyan, 2008]

Cape Canaveral

Fixed in my new wig
the green grass side
                hanging down
I impart to my silences

Climate cannot impair
                neither the gray clouds nor the black waters
the change in my hair.

Covered with straw or alabaster
I'm inured against weather.
The vixen's glare, the tear on the flesh
covered continent where the snake
withers happily and the nude deer
antler glitters, neither shares
my rifled ocean growth
                polar and spare.

Eyes open
       spinning pockets
for the glass harpoons
       lying under my lids
       icy as summers

Nose ridges
       where the glaciers melt
into my autumnal winter-fed cheek
hiding its shudder in this kelp
                cracked as the air.

01 October 2009

Jed Rasula

[from Jed Rasula's The American Poetry Wax Museum, National Council of Teachers of English, 1996]

the attenuated lyric personalism that is the dominant workshop mode has constricted the range of expression and blotted out the diversity of ethnopoetic traditions. John Koethe's analysis is astute: "Writing programs are not usually 'schools,'" he points out. But, "[i]n the absence of explicitly articulated theoretical principles regarding the nature and purpose of poetry, they inculcate, by default, a poetics of the 'individual voice' that valorizes authenticity and fidelity to its origins in prepoetic experience or emotion." In other words, ethnic diversity at the applicant and trainee level does not automatically translate into poetic diversity. So the writing programs have become a safe haven, a refuge from the sociocultural perplexities signified by "theory" and "postmodernism" (not to mention "late capitalism"), promoting a return to the now paradoxically reassuring anxieties of self-doubt.

Lucia Perillo

[from Lucia Perillo's Inseminating the Elephant, Copper Canyon, 2009]

Snowstorm with Inmates and Dogs

The prison kennel's tin roof howls
while the dogs romp outside through the flakes.
The inmates trained a dog to lift my legs --
for months they rolled the concrete floor
in wheelchairs, simulating.

Through a window I watch them cartwheel now,
gray sweatpants rising against the whitened hill
traversed by wire asterisks and coils.
At first I feared they pitied me,
the way I flinched at the building's smell.

Now the tin roof howls, the lights go off
to the sound of locking doors. Go on, breathe --
no way the machinery of my lungs
is going to plow the county road.
Didn't I try to run over a guy,

spurned love being the kindling stick that rubbed
against his IOUs? Easy to land here,
anyone could -- though I think laughter
would elude me, no matter what the weather.
Compared to calculating how far to the road.

My instructions were: Accept no notes or photographs,
and restrict the conversation to such topics as
how to teach the dog to nudge
the light switch with his nose.

Now the women let their snowballs fly -- as if
the past were a simple matter that could splat and melt.
Only my red dog turns his head
toward the pines beyond the final fence
before the generator chugs to life.

poets who have won the MacArthur

[my thanks to Emily Lloyd for this list]

Despite my raging joy that Heather McHugh has won half a million dollars, I deplore prize giving of all kinds because of the implied value judgments, politics, social bias, cultural pressure, category exclusions, etc.

Below is a chronological list of poets who have won the MacArthur.

How many of these poets have you heard of? How many have you read? How many have taught you things you value? What do your answers say about your position in or out of the poetry mainstream? What poets are not on the list who would be on your list? What is your response to the enthronement of poets (or anyone) in this fashion?

I highly recommend Jed Rasula's The American Poetry Wax Museum for a fascinating contrarian view of the poetry policy makers of the 20th century.

Poets who have won the MacArthur:

A.R. Ammons
Joseph Brodsky
Derek Walcott
Robert Penn Warren
Brad Leithauser
A.K. Ramanujan
Robert Hass
Charles Simic
Galway Kinnell
John Ashbery
Daryl Hine
Jay Wright
Douglas Crase
Richard Kenney
Mark Strand
May Swenson
Allen Grossman
Jorie Graham
John Hollander
Alice Fulton
Eleanor Wilner
Amy Clampitt
Irving Feldman
Thom Gunn
Ann Lauterbach
Jim Powell
Adrienne Rich
Sandra Cisneros
Richard Howard
Thylias Moss
Susan Stewart
Linda Bierds
Edward Hirsch
Ishmael Reed
Campbell McGrath
Anne Carson
Lucia Perillo
C.D. Wright
Peter Cole
Heather McHugh

30 September 2009

Karen Volkman

[from Karen Volkman's Crash's Law, Norton, 1996]

Persephone at Home

No good reflecting on what might have been
if I'd been different -- no straying
after foreign flowers, no hunger
for bitter fruit. In the beginning --

such a child -- I thought it punishment,
not fate. It is daylight I miss
mainly. What we are granted of sun here
is a dim relentless red. I wander

the reeking river, I pat
fat Cerberus on his many manic heads.
The moldy skiff makes its incessant
prompt arrivals, so efficient,

our dutiful Charon growling orders
from the prow. Huge-eyed, uncomprehending,
the new recruits stare round. Wives still
clutching their washing, wailing children,

soldiers blood-stained and battered
from the latest engagement.
Then that blessed briny sip, welcome
oblivion -- they're blank as babies.

All nights the shrieks of the tortured serenade
our marriage bed. Once it lulled
me rigid. For years after that
first celebrated rape,

I lay cold beneath his coldness,
stiff in his stiff embrace.
I'll give no prince to this kingdom.
That thing is dead.

For years, he broke me for it.
For years, I bled and bled.
That was then. Queen
of his blasphemous backwater,

I make my claim. On earth,
I am virginal abundance, fat and full.
Here, bony and empty, I straddle
my killer, my captor, my grief, my bane,

and tear and take
the torn lip, the raked neck, the aching thighs,
that will remind me
through the long black morning

I am alive.

White Lily

Gnomish in its rounded hunch
of greeny folds, three-fourths of the year
it resembles a weed. Now spring's

unseasonable heat
brings vindication. Trumpet
over frilled, frail trumpet

spills its bone-white notes
in April air. Below, in shadow --
shrunken, overawed -- skulks

the novice rosebush
we rooted in the fall. This
spendthrift, who's squandered

brilliant buds for months,
today knows the earthy weight
of morning-after. Our double

hibiscus, also, pinkly plumed,
succumbed to a plumber's truck
that veered too soon. But the lily

in her straight ascetic's
rigid pose, white as the ember
of a low, enduring fire

takes her pleasure like
the wife of the pastor
come to bed -- prim in her cotton frock

throughout the day, precise
in her firm instructions
to the maid, who cradled

in the rough caress of muslin sheets
bares her stoic shoulders to the room
and seizes in her strong white legs

the truant moon.

29 September 2009

Anne Waldman

[from Anne Waldman's Manatee/Humanity, Penguin Books, 2009]

& in the dream it was wolves all the way down,
             wolf pack thrashing & gnawing at the corpses of other animals
cannibal heaven
a small splash, a chill

an eye caught
metallic shimmer
   cloaks & hoods of the imposters
rent apart by wolves
   "I am a youth with golden cymbals dancing"
then one, turns
              to me as in blame
would you come to my rescue?

reliable humans? would you?
  notice animals dressed as humans now, imposter humans

             strewn out on the charnel ground, clothed
battered & trying to be animal again, scratch wolf-eyes off the facade of human

images of many ravage sites flash by
       as if there is atavistic memory
creation of a perceptual world of death & destruction
long evolutionary gestation of death & destruction

                      we stopped to observe (my companion always with me now);
cougar, head snapped
entrails ripped out . . . & spread all around
those parts not eaten
cougar cups eviscerated, killer instinct or survival

what can we learn from the predatory nature of other animals
to surround the bison
down the cattle

the other way around, you said
we came first
                  so like them . . .

we in our sweet-smelling realm so like them--
pack of wolves

                        & all breaths escape to exhale in the continued plight of
wolves, loyal in their pack abode, cunning
bright-eyed ones

                                                    ride over me tonight

& manatee
you can't mix a human monster ever enough to aid the manatee

surely our conscious plans have precursors in animal brains