27 December 2010

Pablo Neruda

[from Pablo Neruda's Confieso que he vivido, tr. Carol Peters, Plaza & Janés, 1998]

I examined [the toilet] with curiosity. It was a wooden box with a hole in the middle, very like the unit I was used to in my rural childhood, in my country. But ours sat over a deep pit or over a stream of running water. Here the receptable was a simple metal cube under the round hole.

The cube appeared clean every day without my knowing how the contents disappeared. One morning I rose earlier than usual. I stood astonished at what was happening.

From deep inside the house, like a dark moving statue, came the most beautiful woman I had seen up until that point in Ceylon, a Tamil, of the pariah caste. She wore a red & gold sari of the stiffest fabric. Above bare feet she wore heavy anklets. On either side of her nose shone two red studs. They must have been ordinary glass, but on her they seemed rubies.

She headed toward the privy with solemn steps, without seeing me, without giving the slightest sign of my existence, & disappeared with the sordid receptacle on top of her head, moving away at her godlike pace.

She was so beautiful that in spite of her humble task she stayed in my mind. As if she were a wild animal, arrived from the jungle, belonging to another existence, a separate world. I called to her without effect. Later I left some gift in her path, silk or fruit. She passed without hearing or looking. That miserable route had been transformed by her dark beauty into the obligatory ceremony of an indifferent queen.

One morning, totally determined, I took her tightly by the wrist & stared at her, face to face. I had no language to speak to her. Without a smile she allowed me to lead her & quickly she was nude on my bed. Her narrow waist, her full hips, the abundant swell of her breasts, made her the equal of thousands of sculptures in the south of India. The encounter was of a man with a statue. She stayed the whole time with her eyes open, passive. It made me despise myself. It did not happen again.

25 December 2010

Octavio Paz

[from Octavio Paz's The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz: 1957-1987, Bilingual Edition, ed. Eliot Weinberger, tr. Eliot Weinberger, New Directions, 1990]


If you are the amber mare
              I am the road of blood
If you are the first snow
              I am he who lights the hearth of dawn
If you are the tower of night
              I am the spike burning in your mind
If you are the morning tide
              I am the first bird's cry
If you are the basket of oranges
              I am the knife of the sun
If you are the stone altar
              I am the sacrilegious hand
If you are the sleeping land
              I am the green cane
If you are the wind's leap
              I am the buried fire
If you are the water's mouth
              I am the mouth of moss
If you are the forest of the clouds
              I am the axe that parts it
If you are the profaned city
              I am the rain of consecration
If you are the yellow mountain
              I am the red arms of lichen
If you are the rising sun
              I am the road of blood

23 December 2010

Omar Pérez

[from Omar Pérez's Did You Hear About the Fighting Cat?, tr. Kristin Dykstra, Shearsman, 2010]

Some call it the Game, others the Flower or the Mirror. All agree that it deals with an instrument for mutation, a fan that becomes sword, then branch -- dry or covered in flowers -- then a sudden flame, then silence. A fan for a journey.

The creature arrives on the Island with the purpose of mutation, yet the waters of the amniotic ocean cause it to forget. The creature arrives on the Island without a purpose. Later it learns: praxis, poeisis, Kyrie eleison, benedictus qui venit in nomine domini. I can't give you anything but love baby. Il faut être absolumment sincère, Cubanness is love, women are in charge.

The word is there in the game, but it is not the game. Morality and the cyclical working of consciousness are there in the game, but they are not the game. Nation is a woman bearing corn, liberty one of the childish watchwords that the players exchange. The creature practices forgetting and its body catches flame with a memory, one that lances the Island and the water separating it from other islands. O, lightning spreading across the surface of the waters! O creature upright in the body of the lightning!

"It is a technique for sincerity that comprehends all techniques," said the Man of the island mountain.

"I want to learn it," the Creature blurted.

"It's easy. Anchor the improvisational. For example, a kiss. Improvise the anchored. For example, a mountain on an island. Deal a death blow to discernment."

"And my thoughts?" the Creature protested.

"They're worthless. Consider them insects on the bark of a growing tree. That is the sublimity of thought, if you're interested in knowing it."

"I have questions to answer," the Creature reflected.

"Don't answer anything. Don't react to proofs. Another Creature awaits you now. Show it what you have forgotten."

20 December 2010

Pablo Neruda

[from Pablo Neruda's The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems (Bilingual Edition), ed. Mark Eisner, tr. Stephen Kessler, City Lights, 2004]

It Means Shadows

What hope to consider, what pure foreboding,
what definitive kiss to bury in the heart,
to submit to the origins of homelessness and intelligence,
smooth and sure over the eternally troubled waters?

What vital, speedy wings of a new dream angel
to install on my sleeping shoulders for perpetual security,
in such a way that the path through the stars of death
be a violent flight begun many days and months and centuries ago?

Suppose the natural weakness of suspicious, anxious creatures
all of a sudden seeks permanence in time and limits on earth,
suppose the accumulated ages and fatigues implacably
spread like the lunar wave of a just-created ocean
over lands and shorelines tormentedly deserted.

Oh, let what I am keep on existing and ceasing to exist,
and let my obedience align itself with such iron conditions
that the quaking of deaths and of births doesn't shake
the deep place I want to reserve for myself eternally.

Let me, then, be what I am, wherever and in whatever weather,
rooted and certain and ardent witness,
carefully, unstoppably, destroying and saving himself,
openly engaged in his original obligation.

18 December 2010

Audre Lorde

[from Audre Lorde's The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance: Poems 1987-1992, Norton, 1993]

The Electric Slide Boogie

New Year's Day 1:16 AM
and my body is weary beyond
time to withdraw and rest
ample room allowed me in everyone's head
but community calls
right over the threshold
drums beating through the walls
children playing their truck dramas
under the collapsible coatrack
in the narrow hallway outside my room

The TV lounge next door is wide open
it is midnight in Idaho
and the throb      easy      subtle      spin
of the electric slide boogie
around the corner of the parlor
past the sweet clink
of dining room glasses
and the edged aroma of slightly overdone
dutch-apple pie
all laced together
with the rich dark laughter
of Gloria
and her higher-octave sisters

How hard it is to sleep
in the middle of life.

05 December 2010

Rubén Darío

[from Rubén Darío, tr. Lysander Kemp, in Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology, Texas, 1996]

To Roosevelt [1905]

The voice that would reach you, Hunter, must speak
with Biblical tones, or in the poetry of Walt Whitman.
You are primitive and modern, simple and complex;
you are one part George Washington and one part Nimrod.

You are the United States,
future invader of our naive America
with its Indian blood, an America
that still prays to Christ and still speaks Spanish.

You are a strong, proud model of your race;
you are cultured and able; you oppose Tolstoy.
You are an Alexander-Nebuchadnezzar,
breaking horses and murdering tigers.
(You are a professor of Energy,
as the current lunatics say.)

You think that life is a fire,
that progress is an irruption,
that the future is wherever
your bullet strikes.

The United States is grand and powerful.
Whenever it trembles, a profound shudder
runs down the enormous backbone of the Andes.
If it shouts, the sound is like the roar of a lion.
And Hugo said to Grant: "The stars are yours."
(The dawning sun of the Argentine barely shines;
the star of Chile is rising . . .) A wealthy country,
joining the cult of Mammon to the cult of Hercules;
while Liberty, lighting the path
to easy conquest, raises her torch in New York.

But our own America, which has had poets
since the ancient times of Nezahualcóyotl;
which preserved the footprints of great Bacchus,
and learned the Panic alphabet once,
and consulted the stars; which also knew Atlantis
(whose name comes ringing down to us in Plato)
and has lived, since the earliest moments of its life,
in light, in fire, in fragrance, and in love --
the America of Moctezuma and Atahualpa,
the aromatic America of Columbus,
Catholic America, Spanish America,
the America where noble Cuauhtémoc said:
"I am not on a bed of roses" -- our America,
trembling with hurricanes, trembling with Love:
O men with Saxon eyes and barbarous souls,
our America lives. And dreams. And loves.
And it is the daughter of the Sun. Be careful.
Long live Spanish America!
A thousand cubs of the Spanish lion are roaming free.
Roosevelt, you must become, by God's own will,
the deadly Rifleman and the dreadful Hunter
before you can clutch us in your iron claws.

And though you have everything, you are lacking one thing: God!

04 December 2010

Carlos Drummond de Andrade

[from Carlos Drummond de Andrade, tr. Mark Strand, in Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology, Texas, 1996]

Um boi vê os homens
An Ox Looks at Man

They are more delicate even than shrubs and they run
and run from one side to the other, always forgetting
something. Surely they lack I don't know what
basic ingredient, though they present themselves
as nobel or serious, at times. Oh, terribly serious,
even tragic. Poor things, one would say that they hear
neither the song of air nor the secrets of hay;
likewise they seem not to see what is visible
and common to each of us, in space. And they are sad,
and in the wake of sadness they come to cruelty.
All their expression lives in their eyes — and loses itself
to a simple lowering of lids, to a shadow.
And since there is little of the mountain about them —
nothing in the hair or in the terribly fragile limbs
but coldness and secrecy — it is impossible for them
to settle themselves into forms that are calm, lasting,
and necessary. They have, perhaps, a kind
of melancholy grace (one minute) and with this they allow
themselves to forget the problems and translucent
inner emptiness that make them so poor and so lacking
when it comes to uttering silly and painful sounds: desire, love,
(what do we know?) — sounds that scatter and fall in the field
like troubled stones and burn the herbs and water,
and after this it is hard to keep chewing away at our truth.

Pablo Neruda

ten ways of looking at a stanza
from Pablo Neruda’s “Walking Around”

[Pablo Neruda]

Por eso el día lunes arde como el petróleo
cuando me ve llegar con mi cara de cárcel,
y aúlla en su transcurso como una rueda herida,
y da pasos de sangre caliente hacia la noche.

[Google translator]

So on Monday as oil burns
when he sees me coming with my convict face,
and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,
and take[s] steps of hot blood into the night.

[John Felstiner]

That's why Monday flares up like gas
when it sees me coming with my jailhouse face,
and howls like a wounded wheel as it goes by,
and makes hot bloody tracks toward night.

[Forrest Gander]

That’s why Monday burns like kerosene
when it sees me show up with my mugshot face,
and it shrieks on its way like a wounded wheel,
trailing hot bloody footprints into the night.

[W. S. Merwin]

For this reason Monday burns like oil
at the sight of me arriving with my jail-face,
and it howls in passing like a wounded wheel,
and its footsteps towards nightfall are filled with hot blood.

[Jerome Rothenberg]

So the day called Monday started burning like oil
when it sees me pull in with my face of a jailhouse,
and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,
and leaves tracks of hot blood in the direction of night.

[Ben Belitt]

That’s why Monday flares up like an oil-slick,
when it sees me up close, with the face of a jailbird,
or squeaks like a broken-down wheel as it goes,
stepping hot-blooded into the night.

[Robert Bly]

That's why Monday, when it sees me coming
with my convict face, blazes up like gasoline,
and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,
and leaves tracks full of warm blood leading toward the night.

[Donald Devenish Walsh]

That is why Monday day burns like petroleum
when it sees me coming with my jailbird face,
and as it passes it howls like a wounded wheel,
and it takes hot-blooded steps toward the night.

[Nathaniel Tarn?]

This is why, Monday, the day, is burning like petrol,
when it sees me arrive with my prison features,
and it screeches going by like a scorched tire
and its footsteps tread hot with blood towards night.

03 December 2010

Pablo Neruda

[from John Felstiner's Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu, Stanford, 1980]

Walking Around

It so happens I'm tired of being a man.
It so happens I walk into tailorshops and movies
all shriveled up, impervious, like a swan of felt
steering through waters of origin and ash.

The smell of barbershops makes me break out sobbing.
All I want is the quiet of stones or wool,
all I want is to see no stores or gardens,
or merchandise or eyeglasses or elevators.

It so happens I'm tired of my feet and fingernails
and my hair and my shadow.
It so happens I'm tired of being a man.

Still it would be delightful
to frighten a notary with a cut lily
or do in a nun with one smack of an ear.
It would be great
to go through the streets with a green knife
screaming until I died of cold.

I just can't go on as a root in the dark,
swaying, stretching, shivering with sleep,
downwards, in the soaking guts of the earth,
absorbing and musing, eating every day.

I don't want so much misery for me.
I can't go on being root and tomb,
isolated cellar, warehouse of frozen
stiffs, dying of grief.

That's why Monday flares up like gas
when it sees me coming with my jailhouse face,
and howls like a wounded wheel as it goes by,
and makes hot bloody tracks toward night.

And shoves me to certain corners, certain dank houses,
to hospitals with bones coming out the window,
to certain shoestores reeking of vinegar,
to streets as frightful as crevices.

There are sulfur-colored birds and hideous intestines
hanging from the doors of houses I hate,
there are false teeth forgotten in a coffeepot,
there are mirrors
that must have wept for shame and horror,
there are umbrellas everywhere, and poisons, and navels.

I'm walking around with calm, with eyes, with shoes,
with rage, with forgetfulness,
I walk along, I go past offices and orthopedic shops,
and backyards with clothing hung from a wire:
underpants, towels, and shirts that weep
slow dirty tears.

17 November 2010

from Tadeusz Różewicz in Postwar Polish Poetry, ed Czeslaw Milosz, University of California, 1983]

To the Heart

I saw
a cook a specialist
he would put his hand
into the mouth
and through the trachea
push it to the inside
of a sheep
and there in the quick
would grasp the heart
tighten his grip
on the heart
rip out the heart
in one jerk
that was a specialist

16 November 2010

Anna Świrszczyńska

[from Anna Świrszczyńska in Postwar Polish Poetry, ed Czeslaw Milosz, University of California, 1983]

The Same Inside

Walking to your place for a love feast
I saw at the street corner
an old beggar woman.

I took her hand
kissed her delicate cheek,
we talked, she was
the same inside as I am,
from the same kind,
I sensed this instantly
as a dog knows by its scent
another dog.

I gave her money,
I could not part from her.
After all, one needs
someone who is close.

And then I no longer knew
why I was walking to your place.

16 October 2010

Lisa Olstein

[from Lisa Olstein's Lost Alphabet, Copper Canyon, 2009]

[white spring]

I am working on a specimen so pale it is like staring at snow from the bow of a ship in fog. I lose track of things -- articulation of wing, fineness of hair -- as if the moth itself disappears but remains as an emptiness before me. Or, from its bleakness, the subtlest distinctions suddenly increase: the slightest shade lighter in white begins to breathe with a starkness that's arresting, and the very idea of color terrifies. It has snowed and the evening is blue. The herders look like buoys, like waders the water has gotten too deep around. They'll have to swim in to shore. Their horses are patient. They love to be led from their stalls. They love to sharpen their teeth on the gate. They will stand, knees locked, for hours.

. . .

[newcomers to the field of endeavor]

There's something dead in the road. No one will touch it. The specimen I'm studying won't sit still. I can no longer do it: swab the ether, drop it into the flapping jar. Ilya watches me from across the room. If I lay the jar on its side with the lid removed eventually the moth will slow its beating. A rinse of sugar-water at the rim draws it to the edge, keeps it there drinking, for a moment, as if from a great glass flower. I usually have time to record family and size, primary markings. This one moves quickly, lights for barely a second at a time. Soon it will fly off and come to rest on some other surface in the room, usually the rough ceiling, which is becoming winged with them.

. . .


Moths ride the room as if a meadow. As if rainfall, hover, nectar, soar. I close my eyes. I feel them, the smell of them, the smell of me. Surely this insight is a defect. I will not cherish the pain or need it. As if to covet any part would render increase when it is clear that wishing is nothing. But there are patterns; parts of my brain gain voice, grow louder. Small doors of perception open, close.

. . .

[from this vantage point your view will be clear]

Any shift in philosophy introduces the need for new habits of body. I am learning how gently to lift them, to turn them swiftly and rest them again, on their wings, wings to table, which I sand smooth each morning. To do it with no fluttering, with as little as possible. It is a strange gymnastics, their bodies, mine: what to grasp, when to release, the nature of a turn, the will of the whole channeled into the fingertips. It takes all my strength. It is necessary to practice, to imagine myself the moth, my arms its wings, my legs gone.

Young Smith

[from Young Smith's In A City You Will Never Visit, Black Zinnias, 2008]

She Considers the Dimensions of Her Soul

                    (Mrs. Morninghouse, after a Sermon Entitled,
                    "What the Spirit Teaches Us through Grief")

The shape of her soul is a square.
She knows this to be the case
because she sometimes feels its corners
pressing sharp against the bone
just under her shoulder blades
and across the wings of her hips.
At one time, when she was younger,
she had hoped that it might be a cube,
but the years have worked to dispel
this illusion of space. So that now
she understands: it is a simple plane:
a shape with surface, but no volume --
a window without a building, an eye
without a mind.
                          Of course, this square
does not appear on x-rays, and often,
weeks may pass when she forgets
that it exists. When she does think
to consider its purpose in her life,
she can say only that it aches with
a single mystery for whose answer
she has long ago given up the search --
since that question is a name which can
never quite be asked. This yearning,
she has concluded, is the only function
of the square, repeated again and again
in each of its four matching angles,
until, with time, she is persuaded anew
to accept that what it frames has no
interest in ever making her happy.

The Properties of Light

xv. illuminance

Beneath the aureole
always the umbra --

that "blackest region
of a shadow" --

though beneath
the umbra, as beneath

the cysted flocculi
of the sun, always

a deeper light
that gives the dark

its burnish -- and it is
in this subtle gleaming

of the black,
in this quiet here

beneath the absence,
that the light achieves

its first and only
deliverance from grief.

02 October 2010

Francis Jammes

[from Francis Jammes in World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time, eds Katharine Washburn & John S. Major, tr. Richard Wilbur, Norton, 1997]

A Prayer to Go to Paradise with the Donkeys

                                      to Máire and Jack

When I must come to you, O my God, I pray
It be some dusty-roaded holiday,
And even as in my travels here below,
I beg to choose by what road I shall go
To Paradise, where the clear stars shine by day.
I'll take my walking-stick and go my way,
And to my friends the donkeys I shall say,
"I am Francis Jammes, and I'm going to Paradise,
For there is no hell in the land of the loving God."
And I'll say to them: "Come, sweet friends of the blue skies,
Poor creatures who with a flap of the ears or a nod
Of the head shake off the buffets, the bees, the flies . . ."

Let me come with these donkeys, Lord, into your land,
These beasts who bow their heads so gently, and stand
With their small feet joined together in a fashion
Utterly gentle, asking your compassion.
I shall arrive, followed by their thousands of ears,
Followed by those with baskets at their flanks,
By those who lug the cars of mountebanks
Or loads of feather-dusters and kitchen-wares,
By those with humps of battered water-cans,
By bottle-shaped she-asses who halt and stumble,
By those tricked out in little pantaloons
To cover their wet, blue galls where flies assemble
In whirling swarms, making a drunken hum.
Dear God, let it be with these donkeys that I come,
And let it be that angels lead us in peace
To leafy streams where cherries tremble in air,
Sleek as the laughing flesh of girls; and there
In that haven of souls let it be that, leaning above
Your divine waters, I shall resemble these donkeys,
Whose humble and sweet poverty will appear
Clear in the clearness of your eternal love.

30 September 2010

César Vallejo

[from César Vallejo's Trilce, tr. Clayton Eshleman, Wesleyan, 1992]


       Who would have told us that on a Sunday
like this, over arachnoid slopes
the shadow would rear completely frontal.
(A mollusc is attacking barren foundered eyes,
at the rate of two or more tantalean possibilities
against a half death rattle of remorseful blood).

       Then, not even the very back of the uninhabited
screen could wipe dry the arteries
extradosed with double neverthelesses.
As if they would have let us leave! As
if we weren't always meshed
at the two daily flanks of fatality!

       And how much we might have offended each other.
And yet how much we might have annoyed each other and
fought and made up again
and again.

       Who would have thought of such a Sunday,
when, dragging, six elbows are licking
this way, addled Mondayescent yolks.

       We might have pulled out against it, from under
the two wings of Love,
lustral third feathers, daggers,
new passages on oriental paper.
For today when we test if we even live,
almost a front at the most.

28 September 2010

Barbara Deming

[from Mab Segrest's My Mama's Dead Squirrel: Lesbian Essays on Southern Culture, Firebrand, 1985]

. . . my father's death. Years ago now. It was on a weekend in the country and he'd been working outside with a pick and shovel, making a new garden plot. He'd had a heart attack and fallen there in the loose dirt. We'd called a rescue squad, and they were trying to bring him back to life, but -- couldn't. I was half-lying on the ground next to him, with my arms around his body. I realized that this was the first time in my life that I had felt able to really touch my father's body. I was holding hard to it -- with my love -- and with my grief. And my grief was partly that my father, whom I loved, was dying. But it was also that I knew already that his death would allow me to feel freer. I was mourning that this had to be so. It's a grief that is hard for me to speak of. That the only time I would feel free to touch him without feeling threatened by his power over me was when he lay dead -- it's unbearable to me. And I think there can hardly be a woman who hasn't felt a comparable grief. So it's an oversimplification to speak the truth that we sometimes wish men dead -- unless we also speak the truth which is perhaps even harder to face (as we try to find our own powers, to be our own women): the truth that this wish is unbearable to us. It rends us.

23 September 2010

Walter Benjamin

[from Walter Benjamin's essay "The Storyteller" from Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, Harcourt Brace, 1968]

There is nothing that commends a story to memory more effectively than that chaste compactness which precludes psychological analysis. And the more natural the process by which the storyteller forgoes psychological shading, the greater becomes the story’s claim to a place in the memory of the listener, the more completely is it integrated into his own experience, the greater will be his inclination to repeat it to someone else someday, sooner or later. This process of assimilation, which takes place in depth, requires a state of relaxation which is becoming rarer and rarer. If sleep is the apogee of physical relaxation, boredom is the apogee of mental relaxation. Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away. His nesting places — the activities that are intimately associated with boredom — are already extinct in the cities and are declining in the country as well. With this the gift for listening is lost and the community of listeners disappears. For storytelling is always the art of repeating stories, and this art is lost when the stories are no longer retained. It is lost because there is no more weaving and spinning to go on while they are being listened to. The more self-forgetful the listener is, the more deeply is what he listens to impressed upon his memory. When the rhythm of work has seized him, he listens to the tales in such a way that the gift of retelling them comes to him all by itself. This, then, is the nature of the web in which the gift of storytelling is cradled. This is how today it is becoming unraveled at all its ends after being woven thousands of years ago in the ambience of the oldest forms of craftsmanship.

17 September 2010

César Vallejo

[from César Vallejo's Trilce, tr. Clayton Eshleman, Wesleyan, 1992)

The grown-ups
— when are they coming back?
Blind Santiago is ringing six o'clock,
and it's already pretty dark.

Mother said she wouldn't be late.

Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel,
be careful going around there, where
stooped souls in torment
have just passed twanging their memories,
toward the silent barnyard, and where
the hens still getting settled,
had been so frightened.
We'd better stay here.
Mother said she wouldn't be late.

We shouldn't fret. Let's keep looking at
the boats — mine's the nicest of all!
we've been playing with all day long,
without fighting, how it should be:
they've stayed on the well water, ready,
loaded with candy for tomorrow.

So let's wait, obedient and with no
other choice, for the return, the apologies
of the grown-ups always in front
leaving us the little ones at home,
as if we couldn't
go away.

Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel?
I call out, I grope in the dark.
They can't have left me all alone,
the only prisoner can't be me.

01 September 2010

Michel Houellebecq

[Michel Houellebecq, tr. Frank Wynne, The Elementary Particles, Knopf, 2000]

Generally, the initial reaction of a thwarted animal is to try harder to attain its goal. A starving chicken (Gallus domesticus) prevented from reaching its food by a wire fence will make increasingly frantic efforts to get through it. Gradually, however, this behavior is replaced by another which has no obvious purpose. When unable to find food, for example, pigeons (Columba livia) will frequently peck the ground even if nothing there is edible. Not only will they peck indiscriminately, but they start to preen their feathers; such inappropriate behavior, frequently observed in situations of frustration or conflict, is known as displacement activity. Early in 1986, just after he turned thirty, Bruno began to write.

30 August 2010

Edgar Allen Poe

[from the preface of Poems by Edgar A. Poe, 1831]

A poem in my opinion is opposed to a work of science by having, for its immediate object, pleasure, not truth; to romance by having, for its object, an indefinite instead of a definite pleasure, being a poem only so far as this object is attained; romance presenting perceptible images with definite, poetry with indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential, since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception.

21 August 2010

Patricia Goedicke

[from Patricia Goedicke's The Wind of Our Going, Copper Canyon Press, 1985]

Mahler in the Living Room

Low to the ground, the windows are full of lake water.
Leaden, the pure slabs rise straight up into the air

From the summerhouse, where we sit watching them,
Shivering on the threshold of late fall

As the bronze hills in their shabby coats
Arch themselves like hands over a cold radiator —

And Mahler in the living room like an earthquake. Behind the eyes
Sorrow heaves upward, the heavy planks of it gigantic

As armies at a distance, as oak trees, as the tar surface
Of a road giving way to frost, buckling under and over

To the white forces of winter; the underground tears bent
Like ribs cracking, hundreds of paralyzed veins

That are now, suddenly, released, in great silver floods
Powerful as oceans our whole lives rise up

Into a sky full of planets tumbling and shooting,
First lavender, then apricot, then plum-colored:

Hissing like skyrockets they streak
Over the slumberous oars in the depths voluptuously rowing

Velvet as elephants, whose liquid footsteps wallow
About to submerge everything: dock, landing place, lawn . . .

But there are jagged slashes too,
Impertinent brass flourishes, horns that bite air

And bray at each other like gold rifles

Over the little pebbles, the quaint Chinese sparrows
Of the piccolos humorously yammering, trying not to listen

To the huge hesitation waltz beneath them,
The passionate kettledrums rolling

In the throbbing cradle of the gut
Sighing over and over Let Go,

Abandon yourself to the pain, the wild love of it that surges,
Resistless, through everyone's secret bowels

Till the walls almost collapse, our clothes fall from us like leaves
Trembling, helplessly tossed

In an uncontrollable windstorm, the branches weave and sob
As if they would never stop, unbearable the sky,

Unbearable the weight of it, the loss, solitude, suffering,
The hills staring at us blindly,

The house nothing but a shell, the bare floors
Relentless, our eyes welling over with such pain

It is all absolutely uncontainable, in a few minutes
Surely everything will dissolve . . .

When the first duck of a new movement appears

In the middle distance, the bottlegreen oboe bobs
Blue-ringed, graceful, under the little rowboat;

The invisible red feet sturdily paddle
Like webbed spoons in the chill soup of the water

That turns into a flatness now,
The agonized surface lies down

In the glass eyes of the windows,
Those solid transparencies

We orchestrate ourselves
To keep the world framed, at bay

As the great lake of the symphony sways
Far down, far down

The violent sun sets,
Over the wet shingles, the shining flanks of the house

The threadbare arm of the hills sinks,
The wave of feeling rests.

14 August 2010

Donald Revell

[from Donald Revell's The Bitter Withy, Alice James, 2009]

Desert Willow

The yellowbirds will not come to a younger man.
And then you add the sky, creating trees
Which add their voices to the birds’.
Almost instantly, the sky falls down in flames.
Wait a moment. Take a drink. Brush
The fly from your wrist. Flesh falls away.
The bone becomes slender, more attuned
To little changes in the wind, and then
The bone-branch flowers — soft trumpets
So quietly purple they are also white.
Welcome bees. Creation is something else.
I was living with good women from Italy
Right upstairs. The winter, after a long while,
Was a heavy bird, yellow where the sun would rise.

28 July 2010

Julio Cortázar

[from Julio Cortázar’s Diary of Andrés Fava, tr. Anne Mclean, Archipelago, 2005]

Before understanding with sufficient dialectic clarity the irruption of poetry in any contemporary verbal genre, and by extension the eradication of “genres” as such, I felt its obscure work present in my prose, in what up till then had been prose. I wrote a novel where, without excessive effort, I managed to express well a clearly a repertoire of ideas and a set of sensations and sentiments. Later, amusing myself with a few short stories, I noticed the first signs of rot in that prose; fear of the “emphatic” period, the “fortissimo” end of chapter. Every proposition that contains a whole development of its object, is like a tiny chapter, and ergo should finish “roundly”; a discourse — and my prose was always discourse, like this that I write now effortlessly, because its content is rigorously transmissible — is composed of dozens of propositions, each one of which has its progression, its peripeteia, its know and its final crash, that artistic order that masters emotion and moves to applause, a gesture that consists of hitting the hands together to see if one can trap in them the je ne sais quoi that provokes enthusiasm.

When I realized I could no longer write like before, that language had turned its back on me, that the rhythms were demanding otherwise, and that on the whole what I was now writing (because I didn’t for a single minute decline the entreaty from within) was less valuable as meaning than as object, I had the first suspicion of the contemporary phenomenon. That was when I read Ulysses, with a South American delay. And I confirmed what was happening when I accidentally stumbled upon The Death of Virgil.

. . . liberty, won by the putrefaction of my excellent former prose, lies in getting as close as possible to the material to be expressed, the physical or fictitious material I want (or I'm obliged) to express. For this I escape from adequate language (which it isn't anyway, more like adequating) and I accept, provoke, invent and try out a way of saying things that — me keeping quite still in the middle — is a self-asserting of all that surrounds me, interests me, and awakens me. There you are, memory of a night on Congreso, an adolescent weeping on a bench. You are there, it's you. Well, now it's your turn because I want it to be, or because I accept that you want it: come, say yourself. This is a hand, this is a sheet of paper. Pass through me like light through a stained-glass window: make yourself word, be here. The order of the elements doesn't matter, it doesn't matter if you're really stained glass and the word illuminates you, making you be, or if you are the light itself and my word (yours, yes, but mine) will be little by little the stained glass that gives you meaning forever.

For others, which is the miracle.

26 July 2010

Christine Hume

[from Christine Hume’s Alaskaphrenia, Green Rose, 2004]

No Less Remarkable Is the Metamorphosis of the Mastodon

Shimmer with mites
            minutes in the clear

Cliff-dripped blinking

Bully the fat-hung cold
By teaching it gongs

Your heads are full of it
            the grass you eat

A dream of being eaten
                        by wind
                        hues of the field

Causes such twisting

And stars orbiting a faint sun
            unproven as it is infinite

The headache you’ll grow into
Suggests all organisms are in the grips
                        of spiral urges

Under these circulations
You could not wear cirrus the way cows do

Always your mange meant to be smoke
            molting, moonglow

You own the smoke, its slow muzzle
Involuntary growl
            in sheep’s clothing

Do you know yet how
To metabolize that magnitude

Ear listening to blank spheres

Ever since incest has been dying out
All your organs redeem rock

Yea, one falls down
Then you fall and unyarn yes sir
            yes sir

&c then centre
is everywhere & then
circumference no where

Aimless and space-shot
You took some doing

Body-beard sweeps
Circles in the dirt

One winter hunger weirds your mind-wires

Curls your backwards

Infant air hardens like a cranium

Shut inside a cranium dark
Everything goes to prospect

25 July 2010

C. D. Wright

Every year the poem I most want to write, the poem that would in effect allow me to stop writing, changes shapes, changes directions. It refuses to come forward, to stand still while I move to meet it, embrace and coax it to sit on the porch with me and watch the lightning bugs steal behind the fog’s heavy veil, listen for the drag of johnboats through the orchestra of locusts and frogs. An old handplow supports the mailbox, a split-rail fence borders the front lot. Hollyhocks and sunflowers loom there. At the end of the lot the road forks off to the left toward the river, to the right toward the old chicken slaughterhouse. The poem hangs back, wraithlike, yet impenetrable as briar. The porch is more impressive than the rest of the house. A moth as big as a girl’s hand spreads itself out on the screendoor. The house smells like beets. For in this poem it is always Arkansas, summer, evening. But in truth, the poem never sleeps unless I do, for if I were to come upon it sleeping, I would net it. And that would be that, my splendid catch.

21 July 2010

Robin Blaser

[from Robin Blaser's The Holy Forest: Collected Poems of Robin Blaser, University of California, 2008]

An Appearance

Okay    A nightingale
does sing
             outside this window

A mirror of leaves and noise

                           This monument
has torn to pieces our guide book
of facts
                           This startles

A nightingale,
                    the bird so ancient
he ( anybody )
                      falls back
on his dusty shoes, pointing

The event darkens     So like
our trembling,
                    we caught at it
breaking the skin

20 July 2010

Robin Blaser

[from Robin Blaser's “The Stadium of the Mirror” in The Fire: Collected Essays of Robin Blaser, University of California, 2006]

The movement back of the great poets is not to a tradition — a golden time or wisdom behind us that places thought in the past and kills it — but it is toward a reopening of words — toward the violence and dynamism of Language — the work of it is in Pound’s return to Homer, Egypt, Na-Khi and in Olson’s ultimate return to Pleistocene, — his curriculum. A beginning again with everything. This reopening of words lets us see their solidifications — the crystals FORMing in the work — (a crust, akin to cruror — blood, Kryos — icy-cold, a coagulation that is the “external expression of a definite internal structure.” An open language is not a wise-doom. I have come to know how unpleasant it is to reveal the limitations and necessities of a practice in language where one is used to seeing . . . the expression of genius and freedom in all its transparency  (Foucault). I would not take it away from you, if it had not become the mirror of our deadness. Half under its breath, amid the murmuring of things, all experience is interiorized language. I (we) lose the words because the structure of what I (we) thought closed. There is nonetheless a speaking that lodges within my own speech. I would not give you the malicious grace of an esprit libre,  if the interior life were not an interiorized language (Lacan). The mind is only the body’s invisibility (Merleau-Ponty). The language regards the guilty man as he who it was (Curtius). . . .

Through the arrangement of words (parataxis), there is a speech alongside my speech, which allows a double speech. A placement. The Other is present and primary to our speaking. There is no public realm without such polarity of language. The operation of its duplicity is the poetic job. A peril and an ecstasy. The traffic around a heart that is heartless. The characters do not speak only of themselves, since they are images of an action. Transcendence is not a position somewhere else, but the manner of our being to any other (Merleau-Ponty). A co-existence

So, an operational Language — just where I (we) had thought to find the stable forms, the recognition that it is only ourselves. These closed words stop and become empty. They are then, where we were thinking, unstable and invaded, as if the known and thought had by a metamorphosis become the unknown and unthought. Just there, the visibility of men died. Against this, the operational Language begins again — allowing very little anthropomorphism. There where he does not think he is thinking. The astonishment of these reopened shapes in lives and poems. But then I (we) move back, for I (we) have been taught there is no operation in language. The poetic language is said to be apart — a wisdom — transcendent to it and not its composing intelligence. Is it in order to protect our eyes from some terrible finitude that has already happened? Or is it simply a mistake that takes on the proportions of the species? — as it is true to say that the buffalo still doesn’t know what a gun is. And I (we) have been taught always to translate the field of Language into a highwire — creative, transcendent, fictive to the terror the culture has been speaking. It is comforting to love nitrogen balloons. A discourse must return without transparency, but it cannot compose itself of closed words — the “spatial capture” of our words — in the stadium of the mirror (Lacan’s le stade du miroir, translated for the metaphor). . . .

The last syllable, silent and golden, always belongs to another poet. The duplicity of my (our) language blends a child’s thought with the risks of the “perilous act” thought is — and permits no luxurious ownership of language or of a consequent knowledge. All true language is thought and so reverses into experience. A breath-boundary, where it is a natural art. The dictation is natural. Things and words are not separate. Such language is not representational of a meaning backward or forward, occulted, lost or unfound, secret to a beginning of an end. It is not a manipulation of words, as in discourse, to refer transparently to a real significance. The operational language reposes the profound kinship of language with the world (Foucault). The dissolution of that binding and entangling has turned out to be ourselves and our discourse. The poetic left to an ideality or transcendence is not a poetic at all — but merely a substitute for the limitation my (our) thought has become. The operational language is conjunctive and reties the heart. The retied heart is an Other Heart. Who is speaking? — (Nietzsche’s profound and original question, asked again by Foucault) — reopens the language into its natural speech, — a double voice of a projective real whose harmony and disharmony are my (our) job. The Other Language.

14 July 2010

Herman Melville

[from Herman Melville's Moby Dick, 1851]

Physiognomically regarded, the Sperm Whale is an anomalous creature. He has no proper nose. And since the nose is the central and most conspicuous of the features; and since it perhaps most modifies and finally controls their combined expression; hence it would seem that its entire absence, as an external appendage, must very largely affect the countenance of the whale. For as in landscape gardening, a spire, cupola, monument, or tower of some sort, is deemed almost indispensable to the completion of the scene; so no face can be physiognomically in keeping without the elevated open-work belfry of the nose. Dash the nose from Phidias's marble Jove, and what a sorry remainder! Nevertheless, Leviathan is of so mighty a magnitude, all his proportions so stately, that the same deficiency which in the sculptured Jove were hideous, in him is no blemish at all. Nay, it is an added grandeur. A nose to the whale would have been impertinent. As on your physiognomical voyage you sail round his vast head in your jolly-boat, your noble conceptions of him are never insulted by the reflection that he has a nose to be pulled. A pestilent conceit, which so often will insist upon obtruding even when beholding the mightiest royal beadle on his throne.

30 June 2010

Saint-John Perse, aka Alexis Leger

[St.-John Perse, Exile and Other Poems, tr. Denis Devlin, Pantheon, 1949]

Rains [excerpt]

          To Katherine and Francis Biddle


The Banyan of the rain takes hold of the City,
      A hasty polyp rises to its coral wedding in all this milk of living water,
      And Idea, naked like a net-fighter, combs her girl's mane in the people's gardens.

      Sing, poem, at the opening cry of the waters the imminence of the theme,
      Sing, poem, at the trampling of the waters the evasion of the theme,
      High license in the flanks of the prophetic Virgins,

      Hatching of golden ovules in the tawny night of the slime
      And my bed made, O fraud! on the edge of such a dream,
      Where the poem, obscene rose, livens and grows and curls.

      Terrible Lord of my laughter, behold the earth smoking with a venison taste,
      Widow clay under virgin water, earth washed clean of the steps of sleepless men,
      And, smelled close-to like wine, does it not truly bring on loss of memory?

      Lord, terrible Lord of my laughter! behold on earth the reverse side of the dream,
      Like the reply of the high dunes to the rising tiered seas, behold, behold
      Earth used-up, the new hour in its swaddling clothes, and my heart host to a strange vowel.


Most suspect Nurses, Waiting-women with veiled elder eyes, O Rains through whom
      The unusual man keeps his caste, what shall we say tonight to him that sounds the depths of our vigil?
      On what new bed, from what restive head shall we ravish the valid spark?

      Silent the Ande over my roof, I am loud with applause, and it is for you, O Rains!
      I shall plead my cause before you: at your lance-points, my share of the world!
      Foam on the lips of the poem like milk of coral rocks!

      And she dancing like a snake-charmer at the entry of my phrases,
      Idea, naked as a sword-blade at the faction fight,
      Will teach me ceremony and measure against the poem's impatience.

      Terrible Lord of my laughter, save me from the avowal, the welcome and the song.
      Terrible Lord of my laughter, what offense rides on the lips of the rainstorm?
      How much fraud consumed beneath our loftiest migrations!

      In the clear night of noon, we proffer more than one new
      Proposition on the essence of being . . . O smoke-curves there on the hearth-stone!
      And the warm rain on our roofs did just as well to quench the lamps in our hands.


Sisters of the warriors of Assur were the tall Rains striding over the earth:
      Feather-helmeted, high-girded, spurred with silver and crystal,
      Like Dido treading on ivory at the gates of Carthage,

      Like Cortez' wife, heady with clay and painted, among her tall apocryphal plants . . .
      They revived with night-dark the blue on the butts of our weapons,
      They will people April in the mirrors' depths of our rooms!

      Nor would I forget their stamping on the thresholds of the chambers of ablution:
      Warrior-women, O warrior-women towards us sharpened by lance and dart-point!
      Dancing-women, O dancing-women on the ground multiplied by the dance and the earth's attraction!

      It is weapons by armfuls, helmeted girls by cartloads, a presentation of eagles to the legions,
      a rising with pikes in the slums for the youngest peoples of the earth -- broken sheaves of dissolute virgins,
      O great unbound sheaves! the ample and living harvest poured back into the arms of men!

      . . . And the City is of glass on its ebony base, knowledge in the mouths of fountains,
      And the foreigner reads the great harvest announcements on our walls,
      And freshness is in our walls where the Indian girl will stay tonight with the inmate.

24 June 2010

Kenneth Koch

[from Kenneth Koch's Sun Out, Knopf, 2004]

Highway Barns, the Children of the Road

Amaryllis, is this paved highway a
Coincidence? There we were
On top of the fuel bin. In the autos
Dusk moved silently, like pine-needle mice.
Often I throw hay upon you,
She said. The painted horse had good news.
Yes, I really miss him, she waves,
She pants. In the dusk bin the fuel reasoned silently.
Amaryllis, is this paved highway a
Coincidence? My ears were glad. Aren't you?
Aren't you healthy in sight of the strawberries,
Which like pine-needle lace fight for dawn fuel?
The white mile was lighted up. We shortened
Our day by two whole tusks. The wind rang.
Where is the elephant graveyard? She missed the pavement.
A load of hay went within speaking distance of the raspberries.
Overture to the tone-deaf evening! I don't see its home.
Prawns fell from that sparkling blue sphere.
The land is coughing, "Joy!" Hey, pavements, you charmers,
When are you going to bring me good news?

17 June 2010

Derek Walcott

[from Derek Walcott's White Egrets, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010]


Your two cats squat, heraldic sphinxes, with such
desert indifference, such "who-the-hell-are-you?" calm,
they rise and stride away leisurely from your touch,
waiting for you only. To be cradled in one arm,
belly turned upward to be stroked by a brush
tugging burrs from their fur, eyes slitted
in ecstasy. The January sun spreads its balm
on earth's upturned belly, shadows that have always fitted
their shapes, re-fit them. Breakers spread welcome.
Accept it. Watch how spray will burst
like a cat scrambling up the side of a wall,
gripping, sliding, surrendering; how, at first,
its claws hook then slip with a quickening fall
to the lace-rocked foam. That is the heart, coming home,
trying to fasten on everything it moved from,
how salted things only increase its thirst.


Bossman, if you look in those bush there, you'll find
a whole set of passport, wallet, I.D., credit card,
that is no use to them, is money on their mind
and is not every time you'll find them afterwards.
You jest leave your bag wif these things on the sand,
and faster than wind they jump out of the bush
while you there swimming and rubbing tanning lotion,
and when you find out it is no good to send
the Special Unit, they done reach Massade.
But I not in that, not me, I does make a lickle
change selling and blowing conch shells, is sad
but is true. Dem faster than any vehicle,
and I self never get in any commotion
except with the waves, and soon all that will be lost.
Is too much tourist and too lickle employment.
How about a lickle life there? Thanks, but Boss,
don't let what I say spoil your enjoyment.

13 June 2010

Mary Szybist

[from Mary Szybist's Granted, Alice James, 2003]

In the Glare of the Garden

Yes, the open mouth
of your watering can, it
reminds me of you, of
rushing toward
smallness, toward
a bright and yellowish
color. Its mouth is smaller
than any part of it,
smaller than any of those red
or yellow petals. It
reminds me of me, of
smallness that seems
closable, but isn't. Go ahead
and tilt it, keep it
up over the zinnias -- it
isn't empty. The zinnias
have their tongues out now almost
completely, let's have it
go to them. I don't think it has
ever seen them before,
let's have it
hold in the air a little
longer -- it doesn't know
the smell yet, yes,
I think you want emptiness
also, let's have it. And the zinnias
open and spark and unregarding it goes
out to them.

29 May 2010

Charles Bernstein

[from Charles Bernstein's All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010]


Listen. I can feel it. Specifically and intentionally. It does hurt. Gravity weighing it down. It's not too soft. I like it. Ringing like this. The hum. Words peeling. The one thing. Not so much limited as conditioned. Here. In this. Spurting. It tastes good. Clogs. Thick with shape. I carry it with me wherever I go. I like it like this. Smears. You can touch it. I know how to get there. Hold it. Tickles. I'm the one beside you. Needs no other. Textures of the signs of life. There is a way in. Only insofar as you let it divert you. "Short cuts, the means before the ends, the 'special ways'," all manners of veering we are schooled in. The straightest path. I don't mind waiting. In the way the world is true. I'm ready to come. Taking away what we've got doesn't compensate for what we've lost. Then, spit it out. It is heavy. Because love of language — the hum — the huhuman — excludes its reduction to a scientifically managed system of reference in which all is expediency and truth is nowhere. Schooled and reschooled. The core is neither soft nor hard. It's not the supposed referent that has that truth. Words themselves. The particulars of the language and not, note, the "depth structures" that "underlie" "all languages" require the attention of that which is neither incidentally nor accidentally related to the world. It's sweet enough. Not mere grids of possible worlds, as if truth were some kind of kicking boy, a form of rhetoric. Truthfulness, love of language: attending its telling. It's not unfair to read intentionality into other people's actions. The mocking of language (making as if it were a mock-up) evades rather than liberates. The world is in them. I can feel the weight of the fog. Hung. The hum is it. Touch it as it hangs on you. It feels good. I say so. I am not embarrassed to be embarrassed. My elementary school teachers thought I was vague, unsocial, & lacked the ability to coordinate the small muscles in my hands. The way it feels. The mistake is to think you can put on the mask at work and then take it off when you get home. I enjoy it. If I acted like a manager to please my managers it would be irrelevant what I thought "privately." The one-two punch: behaviorism and meritocracy. I couldn't spell at school and still can't. "Legibility," "diction," "orthography," "expository clarity." We have all been emptied of emotion. Shells, i.e., going through the motions of touching, holding, coming without care, love, etc. I'm trapped by the job only insofar as I transpose my language to fit it. An erotic pleasure pressing against the pen with my thumb, sore under the nail from a splinter. Then, come closer. Class struggle is certainly not furthered by poetry itself. Shards. Not how we're special that's important but how we're not. I would rather explore the quarry that is my life. Punched out of us. What I didn't learn in school was how to gaze on the mistakes I made out of sheer mediocrity. Intently. They are necessary. I don't mind feeling cramped. It is necessary constantly to remind ourselves of our weaknesses, deficiencies, and failings. Comes back. Not meet you or make you — certainly not figure you out — but to stand next to, be there with. Peaches and apples and pears; biscuits and French sauces. Acknowledgement. We can get up. A blur is no reason for distress. Already made it. The mists before each of us at any time can put to rest any lingering fantasies of clear view. I can still hear it. I'm sure. My present happiness is not what's important. My body. Well, I'm no different. The mistake is to look for the hidden. All here. A world of answers, sentence by sentence. By an act of will. I am as responsible for that "mask" as anything. If I look hard I can see it. The fact of an affluent white man seeking power is enough to make me distrust him. Give it up. It does matter. It is important. You refused because you realized order without justice is tyranny. There are alternatives. We live here. It's time. This is my secret. I knew from the first school wasn't for me. I would accept it if you said it. I no longer need to worry about sincerity. I am the masked man. Its purple. Orange. Queen Victoria Vermilion. A world of uncertainty and wonder. Sky grey. Of satisfaction. Let me stay in. This clearing. Security one more unnecessary underlining. I may stumble but I won't collapse. It's a nice day, the sun shines, the air has cleared. It's so blue. I like the fog. My reasons satisfy me. I have a place to sit. I've located it. It's enough. Worth. Holds. I want particulars. I have put out confusion. Tell me and I can tell you. I woke up. I met this girl. The morning came. I got it. It makes the tune my ear fashions. Slowly. Let me pronounce it for you.

Listen to Charles Bernstein read this.

26 May 2010

Maurice Manning

[from Maurice Manning's The Common Man, Houghton Mifflin, 2010]

That Durned Ole Via Negativa

You ever say a word like naw,
that n, a, double-u instead

of no? Let's try it, naw. You feel
your jaw drop farther down and hang;

you say it slower, don't you, as if
a naw weighs twice as much as no.

It's also sadder sounding than
a no. Yore Daddy still alive?

a friend you haven't seen might ask.
If you say naw, it means you still

cannot get over him. But would
you want to? Naw. Did you hear it then,

that affirmation? You can't say naw
without the trickle of a smile.

The eggheads call that wistful, now --
O sad desire, O boiling pot

of melancholy pitch! Down in
that gloomy sadness always is

a hope. You gettin' any strange?
That always gets a naw, and a laugh.

I've had that asked of me. It's sad
to contemplate sometimes, but kind

of funny, too. It makes me think
of git and who came up with that,

and the last burdened letter hitched
to naw, that team of yous and yoked

together -- the you you are for now
and the you you might become if you

said yeah, to feel the sag of doubt
when only one of you is left

to pull the load of living. My,
but we're in lonesome country now.

I wonder if we ever leave it?
We could say yeah, but wouldn't we

be wiser if we stuck it out
with naw, and know the weight of what

we know is dragging right behind us,
the squeak and buck of gear along

with us, O mournful plea, O song
we know, by heart, by God, by heart.

14 May 2010

Joshua Clover

[from Joshua Clover's The Totality for Kids, University of California, 2006]

In Jaufré Rudel's Song

The sun is abandoned into the thoughts one had about it.

The flowers lie fat on the field under the gong-filled air.

The field ends at the angry factor which keeps the numbers of the
    clock from flying off in twelve directions, beyond which his

She sends her voice into the pines, it returns at evening alone.

The crows hate her for her beauty, she is ugly as a poet.

There is a limited number of nights, though no particular night can
    prove this.

This is the greeting that the lovers exchange when they meet.

08 May 2010

Worthy Evans

[from Worthy Evans's Green Revolver, University of South Carolina, 2010]


The man and his wife walked up to the
canyon lip and he said It's good,
not great. But the book said to do it
so here we are. The man said he and
the wife got married and later looked
to the west as it stood before Lake
Pontchartrain. That was better,
and so was this place in Australia.

The wife until this point had been silent.
She was always the framer and picture
hanger for the husband, she told me as
we were walking back to the gift shop
to look at posters, postcards and
screen savers of what we had just seen.
I believe I'll take this one, she said.

Baked into the Cake

The bride was kissed. The cake
was eaten. Lula had completed
her customary belly dance and
there arose such an emotional
reception that tears came to my
eyes in delight. As these things do,
the good feeling died down and I
caught on to the one-way conversation
about doorknobs. Phillip the
bartender, he listened in too, after
serving me up a gin and tonic.
Marshall Weinstein, of the Kensington
Weinsteins, had clinked a glass and
begun the downhill slide into doorknobs.
Sometimes we encounter crystal
doorknobs that you need only push
to open the door, which had long since
swelled beyond the jamb. I began
to feel ill. Brass ones gleam brightly,
but oh, the polishing that we must
do. Marshall was up front, beside
Regina Whittingham, nee Winkleman,
and I was near the door at this
reception in the basement of a redone
barn. There were no doorknobs here.
The iron doorknobs with patterns
stamped upon them turn black over
time, get lost in sock drawers, where
little children mistake them for turtles.
He laughed at this, maybe remembering
some unprompted discovery after his dad
had gone to work. I remember missing
Lula's belly dancing, so in a twist in my chair,
I looked out the unlatched door at a mother
hen waddling around with her chicks.
My son isn't going to like her.

30 April 2010

Alan Dugan

[from Alan Dugan's Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry, Seven Stories, 2001]

Perverse Explanation for Mutilated Statuary

Her hair was made of poisonous snakes
and her mouth was an open scream,
so when they put their pricks in it
they had the feeling of having come
into nothing at all but a scream,
and the feeling of having been stung
all over. Then, as her teeth closed,
and they opened their eyes to stare,
they turned dead white and froze.

How else did they get there,
set up around Medusa's crypt,
those white statues of sound
young men with the missing pricks,
or with fig leaves over the wound?

25 April 2010

Edward Dorn

[from Edward Dorn via Tom Clark in Jacket 16, “Poetry as a Difficult Labor,” November 1998]

The habit of considering personal expression or ‘lyric” as something that strives for compassion with all of the artifices which make up a poem, is in many ways a loathsome instrumentation that leads you into dishonesties and lies and pretenses that are damaging. It is damaging to the ability to absorb reality. In order to write a poem of any interest whatsoever, it should be beyond how one feels, which is largely a condition so freighted with lack of interest on anybody [else’s] part. You really have to educate yourself and the poem at the same time. That’s where it’s work, it’s labor.

24 April 2010

Edward Dorn

[from Edward Dorn's Way More West, Penguin, 2007]


Red house.   Green tree in mist.
How many fir long hours.
How that split wood
warmed us.   How continuous.
Red house.   Green tree I miss.
The first snow came in October.
Always.   For three years.
And sat on our shoulders.
That clean grey sky.
That fine curtain of rain
like nice lace held our faces
up, in it, a kerchief for the nose
of softest rain.   Red house.

Those green mists rolling
down the hill.   Held our heads
when we went walking on the hills
to the side, with pleasure.
But sad.   That's sad.   That tall grass.
Toggenburg goat stood in, looking, chewing.
Time was its cud.   Oh
Red barn mist of our green trees of Him
who locks our nature in His deep nature
how continuous do we die to come down
as rain; that land's refrain
no we never go there anymore.

19 April 2010

John Wheelwright

[from John Wheelwright's Collected Poems, New Directions, 1983]

Train Ride
          for Horace Gregory

After rain, through afterglow, the unfolding fan
of railway landscape sidled on the pivot
of a larger arc into the green of evening;
I remembered that noon I saw a gradual bud
still white; though dead in its warm bloom;
always the enemy is the foe at home.
       And I wondered what surgery could recover
our lost, long stride of indolence and leisure
which is labor in reverse; what physic recall the smile
not of lips, but of eyes as of the sea bemused.
       We, when we disperse from common sleep to several
tasks, we gather to despair; we, who assembled
once for hopes from common toil to dreams
or sickish and hurting or triumphal rapture;
always our enemy is our foe at home.
       We, deafened with far scattered city rattles
to the hubbub of forest birds (never having
“had time” to grieve or to hear through vivid sleep
the sea knock on its cracked and hollow stones)
so that the stars, almost, and birds comply,
and the garden-wet; the trees retire; We are
a scared patrol, fearing the guns behind;
always the enemy is the foe at home.
       What wonder that we fear our own eyes’ look
and fidget to be at home alone, and pitifully
put off age by some change in brushing the hair
and stumble to our ends like smothered runners at their tape;
       We follow our shreds of fame into an ambush.
       Then (as while the stars herd to the great trough
the blind, in the always-only-outward of their dismantled
archways, awake at the smell of warmed stone
or to the sound of reeds, lifting from the dim
into their segment of green dawn) always
our enemy is our foe at home, more
certainly than through spoken words or from grief-
twisted writing on paper, unblotted by tears
the thought came:
                            There is no physic
for the world’s ill, nor surgery; it must
(hot smell of tar on wet salt air)
burn in a fever forever, an incense pierced
with arrows, whose name is Love and another name
Rebellion (the twinge, the gulf, split seconds,
the very raindrop, render, and instancy
of Love).
       All Poetry to this not-to-be-looked upon sun
of Passion is the moon’s cupped light; all
Politics to this moon, a moon’s reflected
cupped light, like the moon of Rome, after
the deep wells of Grecian light sank low;
always the enemy is the foe at home.
       But these three are friends whose arms twine
without words; as, in a still air,
the great grove leans to wind, past and to come.