Saturday, November 30, 2013

One Way of Doing Battle by Lisa Ciccarello

One Way of Doing Battle

When I touched my wrist to my chest
it was shorthand for love.

When I returned & the house was empty

I carried his body with me.

I burnt the ship to make the sword. I burnt
the sail to send the dead.

That was one way of doing battle.

Do you think I spent all this time with the hammer
just to drink at the well?


I want to hold the neck of this flower until its
animal comes out.

There is nothing left of my home
so I carry my home with me

until I get another son.

A boy who sheared his hair
& stood before me.

Do you think I spent all this time with the blood in the barn
& the meat on the spit

with the horses’ thunder-black eyes
& foaming mouths

to get behind you? No.

One way of doing battle is to do nothing at all.

I lit the beacon

though I never planned to return.

This is the home I know now, the broad blade
the hewn post, barriers in place of a plain.

The axe in the dirt. The bone beneath.

Do you think I spent all this time in the bear-dark forest
in the wing-maze in the trap-howl

in the blade-hunt with the animals stringing up their dead

just to name the moon in the name
of my father?

I want to make this my home. I want

to burn this place & own the ashes of it.

I gave him the knife  

& he belonged to me.

Do you think I spent all this time with the bone-stilled body
in the stone bed

growing the great rope of my hair
moving from shield to shield

just to take your hand in marriage?

To have the chain
but not the charm?

I want to shut your mouth
with my fingers

& your eyes with my hammer.

You touch the metal blade to your metal sleeve,

but your neck is a village without a gate.

Do you think I spent all this time with the sword
just to be a simple daughter?

Beneath my bed I dig a trench.

I want to burn my enemy with the oil & torch

but when he fails to die in the fire
he comes back up burning.

This is no way to raise a child.

As I Grew Older by Langston Hughes

As I Grew Older

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun--
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky--
The wall.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun! 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Proposal by Fady Joudah


I think of god as a little bird who takes
To staying close to the earth,
The destiny of little wings
To exaggerate the wind
And peck the ground.

I see Haifa
By my father and your father’s sea,
The sea with little living in it,
Fished out like a land.

I think of a little song and
How there must be a tree.

I choose the sycamore
I saw split in two
Minaret trunks on the way
To a stone village, in a stone-thrower mountain.

Were the villagers wrong to love
Their donkeys and wheat for so long,
To sing to the good stranger
Their departure song?

I think of the tree that is a circle
In a straight line, future and past.
I wait for the wind to send 
God down, I become ready for song.

I sing, in a tongue not my own:
We left our shoes behind and fled.
We left our scent in them
Then bled out our soles.
We left our mice and lizards 

There in our kitchens and on the walls.
But they crossed the desert after us,
Some found our feet in the sand and slept,
Some homed in on us like pigeons,
Then built their towers in a city coffin for us . . .

I will probably visit you there after Haifa.
A little bird to exaggerate the wind
And lick the salt off the sea of my wings. I think

God reels the earth in when the sky rains
Like fish on a wire.

And the sea, each time it reaches the shore,
Becomes a bird to see of the land 
What it otherwise wouldn’t.
And the wind through the trees
Is the sea coming home. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Blessing from My Sixteen Years’ Son by Mary Karr

A Blessing from My Sixteen Years’ Son

I have this son who assembled inside me
during Hurricane Gloria. In a flash, he appeared, 
in a tiny blaze. Outside, pines toppled.

Phone lines snapped and hissed like cobras. 
Inside, he was a raw pearl: microscopic, luminous. 
Look at the muscled obelisk of him now

pawing through the icebox for more grapes. 
Sixteen years and not a bone broken, 
not a single stitch. By his age,

I was marked more ways, and small. 
He’s a slouching six foot three,
with implausible blue eyes, which settle

on the pages of Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” 
with profound belligerence.
A girl with a naval ring

could make his cell phone go buzz
or an Afro'ed boy leaning on a mop at Taco Bell– 
creatures strange as dragons or eels.

Balanced on a kitchen stool, each gives counsel 
arcane as any oracle’s. Rodney claims school 
is harshing my mellow. Case longs to date

a tattooed girl, because he wants a woman
willing to do stuff she’ll regret.
They’ve come to lead my son

into his broadening spiral. 
Someday soon, the tether
will snap. I birthed my own mom

into oblivion. The night my son smashed
the car fender, then rode home 
in the rain-streaked cop car, he asked, Did you

and Dad screw up much?
He’d let me tuck him in,
my grandmother’s wedding quilt

from 1912 drawn to his goateed chin. Don’t 
blame us, I said. You’re your own
idiot now. At which he grinned.

The cop said the girl in the crimped Chevy
took it hard. He’d found my son
awkwardly holding her in the canted headlights,

where he’d draped his own coat
over her shaking shoulders. My fault, 
he’d confessed right off.

Nice kid, said the cop.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

In California During the Gulf War by Denise Levertov

In California During the Gulf War

Among the blight-killed eucalypts, among
trees and bushes rusted by Christmas frosts,
the yards and hillsides exhausted by five years of drought,

certain airy white blossoms punctually
reappeared, and dense clusters of pale pink, dark pink—
a delicate abundance. They seemed

like guests arriving joyfully on the accustomed
festival day, unaware of the year's events, not perceiving
the sackcloth others were wearing.

To some of us, the dejected landscape consorted well
with our shame and bitterness. Skies ever-blue,
daily sunshine, disgusted us like smile-buttons.

Yet the blossoms, clinging to thin branches
more lightly than birds alert for flight,
lifted the sunken heart

even against its will. But not
as symbols of hope: they were flimsy
as our resistance to the crimes committed

—again, again—in our name; and yes, they return,
year after year, and yes, they briefly shone with serene joy
over against the dark glare

of evil days. They are, and their presence
is quietness ineffable—and the bombings are, were,
no doubt will be; that quiet, that huge cacophany

simultaneous. No promise was being accorded, the blossoms
were not doves, there was no rainbow. And when it was claimed
the war had ended, it had not ended.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Simile by Rosanna Warren


As when her friend the crack Austrian skier, in the story
she often told us, had to face
his first Olympic ski jump and, from
the starting ramp over the chute that plunged
so vertiginously its bottom lip
disappeared from view, gazed
on a horizon of Alps that swam and dandled around him
like toy boats in a bathtub, and he could not
for all his iron determination,
training, and courage
ungrip his fingers from the railings of the starting gate, so that
his teammates had to join in prying
up, finger by finger, his hands
to free him, so

facing death, my
mother gripped the bed rails but still
stared straight ahead—and
who was it, finally,
who loosened
her hands?


Friday, November 22, 2013

Cloudless Snowfall By Franz Wright

Cloudless Snowfall

Great big flakes like white ashes
at nightfall descending
abruptly everywhere
and vanishing
in this hand like the host
on somebody’s put-out tongue, she
turns the crucifix over
to me, still warm
from her touch two years later
and thank you,
I say all alone—
Vast whisp-whisp of wingbeats
awakens me and I look up
at a minute-long string of black geese
following low past the moon the white
course of the snow-covered river and
by the way thank You for
keeping Your face hidden, I
can hardly bear the beauty of this world.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Follower by Seamus Heaney

The Follower

My father worked with a horse-plough,
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.
The horse strained at his clicking tongue. 

An expert. He would set the wing
And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
The sod rolled over without breaking.
At the headrig, with a single pluck 

Of reins, the sweating team turned round
And back into the land. His eye
Narrowed and angled at the ground,
Mapping the furrow exactly. 

I stumbled in his hob-nailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back
Dipping and rising to his plod. 

I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm. 

I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today 
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away. 


Mid-Term Break by Seamus Heaney

Mid-Term Break

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying -
He had always taken funerals in his stride -
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble".
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock an ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Sky Is Low, the Clouds Are Mean by Emily Dickinson

The Sky Is Low, the Clouds Are Mean

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.

A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Feel of Hands by Thom Gunn

The Feel of Hands

The hands explore tentatively,
two small live entities whose shapes
I have to guess at. They touch me
all, with the light of fingertips

testing each surface of each thing
found, timid as kittens with it.
I connect them with amusing
hands I have shaken by daylight.

There is a sudden transition:
they plunge together in a full-
formed single fury; they are grown
to cats, hunting without scruple;

they are expert and desperate.
I am in the dark. I wonder
when they grew up. It strikes me that
I do not know whose hands they are.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Artist's Hand by D. A. Powell

The Artist’s Hand
for Mark di Suvero 

Nailbeds pink, deeper pink toward the cuticles,
      cuticles a little rough, but clean.
                              Obsessively clean. A little yellowing under the edges of the nails,
                              the fingers boney, bowing, and large knuckles where skin bunches like roses puckered on fabric.
                              A hand in need of moisturizer. A sanitized hand. A worried hand? Hands don’t worry. Spots that change. One that elongates into a question mark.
                              Well, hasn’t that hand done something?
                                         It is a form of making when it makes. But mostly the hand is an idle thing
      & therefore available for scrutiny unlike the artist himself, his stillness a form of motion,
                              intent upon a subject so close to his heart
                              that he must hold it out, away from all other limbs
                              and parts of the body, to see it as itself, a hand, agent of the mind and yet separate from all thought.
                              All his effort goes into the hand, and through the hand
                                         makes visible the scale of imagination, so that
                              what’s left is not the hand
                                         but its testament. 

Considering the Snail by Thom Gunn

Considering the Snail

The snail pushes through a green
night, for the grass is heavy
with water and meets over
the bright path he makes, where rain
has darkened the earth's dark. He
moves in a wood of desire,

pale antlers barely stirring
as he hunts. I cannot tell
what power is at work, drenched there
with purpose, knowing nothing.
What is a snail's fury? All
I think is that if later

I parted the blades above
the tunnel and saw the thin
trail of broken white across
litter, I would never have
imagined the slow passion
to that deliberate progress.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Monet Refuses the Operation by Lisel Mueller

Monet Refuses the Operation

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don't see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolves
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Remedy for Insomnia by Vera Pavlova

A Remedy for Insomnia

Not sheep coming down the hills,
not cracks on the ceiling—
count the ones you loved,
the former tenants of dreams
who would keep you awake,
once meant the world to you,
rocked you in their arms,
those who loved you . . .
You will fall asleep, by dawn, in tears.

(Translated by Steven Seymour)

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Portrait by Stanley Kunitz

The Portrait

My mother never forgave my father 
for killing himself, 
especially at such an awkward time 
and in a public park 
that spring 
when I was waiting to be born. 
She locked his name in her deepest cabinet 
and would not let him out, 
though I could hear him thumping.  
When I came down from the attic  
with the pastel portrait in my hand  
of a long-lipped stranger  
with a brave moustache  
and deep brown level eyes,  
she ripped it into shreds  
without a single word  
and slapped me hard.  
In my sixty-fourth year  
I can feel my cheek 
still burning.

Easter at Al Qaeda Bodega by Mary Karr

Easter at Al Qaeda Bodega

At the gold speckled counter, my pal in white apron—
index finger tapping his Arabic paper,
where the body count dwarfs
the one in my Times—announces,
You’re killing my people.

But in Hell’s Kitchen, even the Antichrist
ought to have coffee—one cream
and two sugars. Blessings
upon you, he says, and means it.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

The J Car by Thom Gunn

The J Car

Last year I used to ride the J CHURCH Line,
Climbing between small yards recessed with vine –
Their ordered privacy, their plots of flowers
Like blameless lives we might imagine ours.
Most trees were cut back, but some brushed the car
Before it swung round to the street once more
On which I rolled out almost to the end,
To 29th Street, calling for my friend.
He'd be there at the door, smiling but gaunt,
To set out for the German restaurant.
There, since his sight was tattered now, I would
First read the menu out. He liked the food
In which a sourness and dark richness meet
For conflict without taste of a defeat,
As in the Sauerbraten. What he ate
I hoped would help him to put on some weight,
But though the crusted pancakes might attract
They did so more as concept than in fact,
And I'd eat his dessert before we both
Rose from the neat arrangement of the cloth,
Where the connection between life and food
Had briefly seemed so obvious if so crude.
Our conversation circumspectly cheerful,
We had sat here like children good but fearful
Who think if they behave everything might
Still against likelihood come out all right.
But it would not, and we could not stay here:
Finishing up the Optimator beer
I walked him home through the suburban cool
By dimming shape of church and Catholic school,
Only a few, white, teenagers about.
After the four blocks he would be tired out.
I'd leave him to the feverish sleep ahead,
Myself to ride through darkened yards instead
Back to my health. Of course I simplify.
Of course. It tears me still that he should die
As only an apprentice to his trade,
The ultimate engagements not yet made.
His gifts had been withdrawing one by one
Even before their usefulness was done:
This optic nerve would never be relit;
The other flickered, soon to be with it.
Unready, disappointed, unachieved,
He knew he would not write the much-conceived
Much-hoped-for work now, nor yet help create
A love he might in full reciprocate.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

In The Post Office by Thom Gunn

In The Post Office 

Saw someone yesterday looked like you did, 
Being short with long blond hair, a sturdy kid 
Ahead of me in line. I gazed and gazed 
At his good back, feeling again, amazed, 
That almost envious sexual tension which 
Rubbing at made the greater, like an itch, 
An itch to steal or otherwise possess 
The brilliant restive charm, the boyishness 
That half-aware—and not aware enough— 
Of what it did, eluded to hold off 
The very push of interest it begot, 
As if you’d been a tease, though you were not. 
I hadn’t felt it roused, to tell the truth, 
In several years, that old man’s greed for youth, 
Like Pelias’s that boiled him to a soup, 
Not since I’d had the sense to cover up 
My own particular seething can of worms, 
And settle for a friendship on your terms.

Meanwhile I had to look: his errand done, 
Without a glance at me or anyone, 
The kid unlocked his bicycle outside, 
Shrugging a backpack on. I watched him ride
Down 18th Street, rising above the saddle 
For the long plunge he made with every pedal, 
Expending far more energy than needed. 
If only I could do whatever he did, 
With him or as a part of him, if I 
Could creep into his armpit like a fly, 
Or like a crab cling to his golden crotch, 
Instead of having to stand back and watch. 
Oh complicated fantasy of intrusion 
On that young sweaty body. My confusion 
Led me at length to recollections of 
Another’s envy and his confused love.  

That Fall after you died I went again 
To where I had visited you in your pain 
But this time for your—friend, roommate, or wooer? 
I seek a neutral term where I’m unsure. 
He lay there now. Figuring she knew best, 
I came by at his mother’s phoned request 
To pick up one of your remembrances, 
A piece of stained-glass you had made, now his, 
I did not even remember, far less want. 
To him I felt, likewise, indifferent.  

“You can come in now,” said the friend-as-nurse. 
I did, and found him altered for the worse. 
But when he saw me sitting by his bed,
He would not speak, and turned away his head. 
I had not known he hated me until 
He hated me this much, hated me still. 
I thought that we had shared you more or less, 
As if we shared what no one might possess, 
Since in a net we sought to hold the wind. 
There he lay on the pillow, mortally thinned, 
Weaker than water, yet his gesture proving 
As steady as an undertow. Unmoving 
In the sustained though slight aversion, grim 
In wordlessness. Nothing deflected him, 
Nothing I did and nothing I could say. 
And so I left. I heard he died next day.  

I have imagined that he still could taste 
That bitterness and anger to the last, 
Against the roles he saw me in because 
He had to: of victor, as he thought I was, 
Of heir, as to the cherished property 
His mother—who knows why?—was giving me, 
And of survivor, as I am indeed, 
Recording so that I may later read 
Of what has happened, whether between sheets, 
Or in post offices, or on the streets.