Thursday, September 24, 2020

Waking with Russell by Don Paterson

Waking with Russell                                               

Whatever the difference is, it all began 
the day we woke up face-to-face like lovers 
and his four-day-old smile dawned on him again, 
possessed him, till it would not fall or waver; 
and I pitched back not my old hard-pressed grin 
but his own smile, or one I'd rediscovered. 
Dear son, I was mezzo del cammin 
and the true path was as lost to me as ever 
when you cut in front and lit it as you ran. 
See how the true gift never leaves the giver: 
returned and redelivered, it rolled on 
until the smile poured through us like a river.
How fine, I thought, this waking amongst men! 
I kissed your mouth and pledged myself forever. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

I Knew a Woman by Theodore Roethke

I Knew a Woman

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones, 
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;   
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:   
The shapes a bright container can contain! 
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak, 
Or English poets who grew up on Greek 
(I’d have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek). 
How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,   
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand;   
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin;   
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;   
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake, 
Coming behind her for her pretty sake 
(But what prodigious mowing we did make). 
Love likes a gander, and adores a goose: 
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize; 
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;   
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;   
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,   
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose 
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved). 
Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:   
I’m martyr to a motion not my own; 
What’s freedom for? To know eternity. 
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.   
But who would count eternity in days? 
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:   
(I measure time by how a body sways).

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Mastectomy by Wanda Coleman


the fall of
velvet plum points and umber aureolae 
remember living 
forget cool evening air kisses the rush of 
liberation freed from the brassiere 
forget the cupping of his hands the pleasure 
his eyes looking down/anticipating 
forget his mouth. his tongue at the nipples 
his intense hungry nursing 
forget sensations which begin either 
on the right or the left. go thru the body 
linger between thighs 
forget the space once grasped during his ecstasy  
sweet sweet mama you taste so

Monday, September 21, 2020

Words, Wide Night by Carol Ann Duffy

Words, Wide Night

Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you. 
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.
This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say 
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.
La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills
I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you
and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin [“I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison”] by Terrance Hayes

American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin [“I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison”] 

I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison,
Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.
I lock you in a form that is part music box, part meat
Grinder to separate the song of the bird from the bone.
I lock your persona in a dream-inducing sleeper hold
While your better selves watch from the bleachers.
I make you both gym & crow here. As the crow
You undergo a beautiful catharsis trapped one night
In the shadows of the gym. As the gym, the feel of crow-
Shit dropping to your floors is not unlike the stars
Falling from the pep rally posters on your walls.
I make you a box of darkness with a bird in its heart.
Voltas of acoustics, instinct & metaphor. It is not enough
To love you. It is not enough to want you destroyed. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Crusoe in England by Elizabeth Bishop

 Crusoe in England  


A new volcano has erupted, 

the papers say, and last week I was reading    

where some ship saw an island being born:    

at first a breath of steam, ten miles away;    

and then a black fleck—basalt, probably— 

rose in the mate’s binoculars 

and caught on the horizon like a fly. 

They named it. But my poor old island’s still    

un-rediscovered, un-renamable. 

None of the books has ever got it right. 


Well, I had fifty-two 

miserable, small volcanoes I could climb    

with a few slithery strides— 

volcanoes dead as ash heaps. 

I used to sit on the edge of the highest one    

and count the others standing up, 

naked and leaden, with their heads blown off.    

I’d think that if they were the size    

I thought volcanoes should be, then I had    

become a giant; 

and if I had become a giant, 

I couldn’t bear to think what size    

the goats and turtles were, 

or the gulls, or the overlapping rollers    

—a glittering hexagon of rollers    

closing and closing in, but never quite,    

glittering and glittering, though the sky    

was mostly overcast. 


My island seemed to be 

a sort of cloud-dump. All the hemisphere’s    

left-over clouds arrived and hung 

above the craters—their parched throats    

were hot to touch. 

Was that why it rained so much? 

And why sometimes the whole place hissed?    

The turtles lumbered by, high-domed,    

hissing like teakettles. 

(And I’d have given years, or taken a few,    

for any sort of kettle, of course.) 

The folds of lava, running out to sea, 

would hiss. I’d turn. And then they’d prove    

to be more turtles. 

The beaches were all lava, variegated,    

black, red, and white, and gray; 

the marbled colors made a fine display.    

And I had waterspouts. Oh, 

half a dozen at a time, far out, 

they’d come and go, advancing and retreating,    

their heads in cloud, their feet in moving patches    

of scuffed-up white. 

Glass chimneys, flexible, attenuated,    

sacerdotal beings of glass ... I watched    

the water spiral up in them like smoke.    

Beautiful, yes, but not much company. 


I often gave way to self-pity. 

“Do I deserve this? I suppose I must. 

I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Was there    

a moment when I actually chose this? 

I don’t remember, but there could have been.”    

What’s wrong about self-pity, anyway? 

With my legs dangling down familiarly    

over a crater’s edge, I told myself 

“Pity should begin at home.” So the more    

pity I felt, the more I felt at home. 


The sun set in the sea; the same odd sun    

rose from the sea, 

and there was one of it and one of me.    

The island had one kind of everything:    

one tree snail, a bright violet-blue 

with a thin shell, crept over everything,    

over the one variety of tree, 

a sooty, scrub affair. 

Snail shells lay under these in drifts    

and, at a distance, 

you’d swear that they were beds of irises.    

There was one kind of berry, a dark red.    

I tried it, one by one, and hours apart.    

Sub-acid, and not bad, no ill effects;    

and so I made home-brew. I’d drink    

the awful, fizzy, stinging stuff 

that went straight to my head 

and play my home-made flute 

(I think it had the weirdest scale on earth)    

and, dizzy, whoop and dance among the goats.    

Home-made, home-made! But aren’t we all?    

I felt a deep affection for 

the smallest of my island industries.    

No, not exactly, since the smallest was    

a miserable philosophy. 


Because I didn’t know enough. 

Why didn’t I know enough of something?    

Greek drama or astronomy? The books    

I’d read were full of blanks; 

the poems—well, I tried 

reciting to my iris-beds, 

“They flash upon that inward eye, 

which is the bliss ...” The bliss of what?    

One of the first things that I did 

when I got back was look it up. 


The island smelled of goat and guano.    

The goats were white, so were the gulls,    

and both too tame, or else they thought    

I was a goat, too, or a gull. 

Baa, baa, baa and shriek, shriek, shriek, 

baa ... shriek ... baa ... I still can’t shake    

them from my ears; they’re hurting now. 

The questioning shrieks, the equivocal replies    

over a ground of hissing rain 

and hissing, ambulating turtles 

got on my nerves. 

When all the gulls flew up at once, they sounded 

like a big tree in a strong wind, its leaves.    

I’d shut my eyes and think about a tree,    

an oak, say, with real shade, somewhere.    

I’d heard of cattle getting island-sick.    

I thought the goats were. 

One billy-goat would stand on the volcano 

I’d christened Mont d’Espoir or Mount Despair 

(I’d time enough to play with names),    

and bleat and bleat, and sniff the air.    

I’d grab his beard and look at him.    

His pupils, horizontal, narrowed up 

and expressed nothing, or a little malice.    

I got so tired of the very colors!    

One day I dyed a baby goat bright red    

with my red berries, just to see    

something a little different. 

And then his mother wouldn’t recognize him. 


Dreams were the worst. Of course I dreamed of food 

and love, but they were pleasant rather 

than otherwise. But then I’d dream of things    

like slitting a baby’s throat, mistaking it    

for a baby goat. I’d have 

nightmares of other islands 

stretching away from mine, infinities    

of islands, islands spawning islands,    

like frogs’ eggs turning into polliwogs    

of islands, knowing that I had to live    

on each and every one, eventually,    

for ages, registering their flora,    

their fauna, their geography. 


Just when I thought I couldn’t stand it    

another minute longer, Friday came.    

(Accounts of that have everything all wrong.)    

Friday was nice. 

Friday was nice, and we were friends.    

If only he had been a woman! 

I wanted to propagate my kind,    

and so did he, I think, poor boy. 

He’d pet the baby goats sometimes, 

and race with them, or carry one around.    

—Pretty to watch; he had a pretty body. 


And then one day they came and took us off. 


Now I live here, another island, 

that doesn’t seem like one, but who decides? 

My blood was full of them; my brain    

bred islands. But that archipelago 

has petered out. I’m old. 

I’m bored, too, drinking my real tea,    

surrounded by uninteresting lumber. 

The knife there on the shelf— 

it reeked of meaning, like a crucifix. 

It lived. How many years did I    

beg it, implore it, not to break? 

I knew each nick and scratch by heart, 

the bluish blade, the broken tip, 

the lines of wood-grain on the handle ... 

Now it won’t look at me at all.    

The living soul has dribbled away.    

My eyes rest on it and pass on. 


The local museum’s asked me to 

leave everything to them: 

the flute, the knife, the shrivelled shoes, 

my shedding goatskin trousers 

(moths have got in the fur), 

the parasol that took me such a time    

remembering the way the ribs should go. 

It still will work but, folded up, 

looks like a plucked and skinny fowl. 

How can anyone want such things? 

—And Friday, my dear Friday, died of measles 

seventeen years ago come March. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Terminal Nostalgia by Sherman Alexie

Terminal Nostalgia

The music of my youth was much better

Than the music of yours. So was the weather.

Before Columbus came, eagle feathers

Detached themselves for us. So did the weather.

During war, the country fought together

Against all evil. So did the weather.

The cattle were happy to be leather

And made shoes that fit. So did the weather.

Before Columbus came, eagle feathers

Were larger than eagles. So was the weather.

Every ball game was a double-header.

Mickey Mantle was sober. So was the weather.

Before Adam and Eve, an Irish Setter

Played fetch with God. So did the weather.

Before Columbus came, eagle feathers

Married Indians. So did the weather.

Indians were neither loaners nor debtors.

Salmon was our money. So was the weather.

Back then, people wrote gorgeous letters

And read more poetry. So did the weather.

On all issues, there was only one dissenter,

But we loved him, too. So did the weather.

Before Columbus came, eagle feathers

Gave birth to eagles. So did the weather.

We all apprenticed to wise old mentors

And meditated for days. So did the weather.

We were guitar-players and inventors

Of minor chords and antibiotics. So was the weather.

Every person lived near the city center

And had the same income. So did the weather.

Before Columbus, eagle feathers

Lived in the moment. So did the weather.