Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Small Cowering Thing by David Solway

A Small Cowering Thing

I saw it hovering in the distance, a trim and pinioned harrier
stalling in mid-flight, almost loitering,
carrying out aerial reconnaissance in lordly indifferent leisure
(yet bird-alert, genetic with intent), and reconnoitering
the terrain that rolled away beneath its hanging there
in level slabs of icy light and deckle-flecked leaf-shed shade,
slice like a kid’s model glider
in strictly-plotted arcs of eliding mathematical certitude. 

And oh! how it rose then, abrupt in updraft, as if on a swing
or swift and aquiline as a Frisbee; floated; and dropped
slow and deliberate and soundless as a plumbline in water
to fathom its shadow. 

                                And a small cowering thing
huddling in that solemn hush of darkness stopped
to cry out its astonishment as if it could, or mattered.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Dream of Wearing Shorts Forever by Les Murray

The Dream of Wearing Shorts Forever

To go home and wear shorts forever
in the enormous paddocks, in that warm climate,
adding a sweater when winter soaks the grass, 

to camp out along the river bends
for good, wearing shorts, with a pocketknife,
a fishing line and matches, 

or there where the hills are all down, below the plain,
to sit around in shorts at evening
on the plank verandah - 

If the cardinal points of costume
are Robes, Tat, Rig and Scunge,
where are shorts in this compass? 

They are never Robes
as other bareleg outfits have been:
the toga, the kilt, the lava-lava
the Mahatma's cotton dhoti; 

archbishops and field marshals
at their ceremonies never wear shorts.
The very word
means underpants in North America. 

Shorts can be Tat,
Land-Rovering bush-environmental tat,
socio-political ripped-and-metal-stapled tat,
solidarity-with-the-Third World tat tvam asi, 

likewise track-and-field shorts worn to parties
and the further humid, modelling negligee
of the Kingdom of Flaunt,
that unchallenged aristocracy. 

More plainly climatic, shorts
are farmers' rig, leathery with salt and bonemeal;
are sailors' and branch bankers' rig,
the crisp golfing style
of our youngest male National Costume. 

Most loosely, they are Scunge,
ancient Bengal bloomers or moth-eaten hot pants
worn with a former shirt,
feet, beach sand, hair
and a paucity of signals. 

Scunge, which is real negligee
housework in a swimsuit, pyjamas worn all day,
is holiday, is freedom from ambition.
Scunge makes you invisible
to the world and yourself. 

The entropy of costume,
scunge can get you conquered by more vigorous cultures
and help you notice it less. 

To be or to become
is a serious question posed by a work-shorts counter
with its pressed stack, bulk khaki and blue,
reading Yakka or King Gee, crisp with steely warehouse odour. 

Satisfied ambition, defeat, true unconcern,
the wish and the knack of self-forgetfulness
all fall within the scunge ambit
wearing board shorts of similar;
it is a kind of weightlessness. 

Unlike public nakedness, which in Westerners
is deeply circumstantial, relaxed as exam time,
artless and equal as the corsetry of a hussar regiment, 

shorts and their plain like
are an angelic nudity,
spirituality with pockets!
A double updraft as you drop from branch to pool! 

Ideal for getting served last
in shops of the temperate zone
they are also ideal for going home, into space,
into time, to farm the mind's Sabine acres
for product and subsistence. 

Now that everyone who yearned to wear long pants
has essentially achieved them,
long pants, which have themselves been underwear
repeatedly, and underground more than once,
it is time perhaps to cherish the culture of shorts, 

to moderate grim vigour
with the knobble of bare knees,
to cool bareknuckle feet in inland water,
slapping flies with a book on solar wind
or a patient bare hand, beneath the cadjiput trees, 

to be walking meditatively
among green timber, through the grassy forest
towards a calm sea
and looking across to more of that great island
and the further tropics. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Half-Life by Henri Cole

A Half-Life

There is no sun today,
save the finch’s yellow breast,
and the world seems faultless in spite of it.
Across the sound, a continuous
ectoplasm of gray,
a ferry slits the deep waters,

bumping our little motorboats
against their pier.
The day ends like any day,
with its hour of human change
lifting even the chloretic heart.
If living in someone else’s dream

makes us soft, then I am so,
spilling out from the lungs
like green phlegm of spring.
My friend resting on the daybed
fills his heart with memory,
as July’s faithful swallows

weave figure eights above him,
vaulting with pointed wings and forked tails
for the ripe cherries he tosses them,
then ascending in a frolic
of fanned umbrella-feathers
to thread a far, airy steeple.

To my mind, the cherries form an endless
necklacelike cortex rising out
of my friend’s brain, the swallows
unraveling the cerebellum’s pink cord.
In remission six months,
his body novocained and irradiant,

he trembles, threadbare, as the birds unwheel him.
The early evening’s furnace casts
us both in a shimmering sweat.
In a wisp Gabriel might appear to us,
as to Mary, announcing a sweet
miracle. But there is none.

The lilies pack in their trumpets,
our nesting dove nuzzles her eggs,
and chameleons color their skin with dusk.
A half-life can be deepened by the whole,
sending out signals of a sixth sense,
as if the unabashed youthful eye

sees clearest to the other side.
A lemon slice spirals in the icy tea,
a final crystal pulse of the sun reappears,
and a newer infinite sight
takes hold of us like the jet of color
 at the end of winter. Has it begun:

the strange electric vision of the dying?
Give me your hand, friend.
Come see the travelers arrive.
Beneath the lazy, bankrupt sky,
theirs is a world of joy trancing
even the gulls above the silver ferry. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Queen of Carthage by Louise Glück

The Queen of Carthage

Brutal to love,
more brutal to die.
And brutal beyond the reaches of justice
to die of love.

In the end, Dido
summoned her ladies in waiting
that they might see
the harsh destiny inscribed for her by the Fates.

She said, “Aeneas
came to me over the shimmering water;
I asked the Fates
to permit him to return my passion,
even for a short time. What difference
between that and a lifetime: in truth, in such moments,
they are the same, they are both eternity.

I was given a great gift
which I attempted to increase, to prolong.
Aeneas came to me over the water: the beginning
blinded me.

Now the Queen of Carthage
will accept suffering as she accepted favor:
to be noticed by the Fates
is some distinction after all.

Or should one say, to have honored hunger,
since the Fates go by that name also.”

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On Earth by Franz Wright

On Earth

Resurrection of the little apple tree outside

my window, leaf-
light of late
in the April
called her eyes, forget
but how
How does one go
about dying?
Who on earth
is going to teach me—
The world
is filled with people
who have never died

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Cold Front by William Carlos Williams

A Cold Front

This woman with a dead face
has seven foster children
and a new baby of her own in
spite of that. She want pills

for an abortion and says,
Uh hum, in reply to me while
her blanketed infant makes
unrelated grunts of salutation.

She looks at me with her mouth
open and blinks her expressionless
carved eyes, like a cat
on a limb too tired to go higher

from its tormentors. And still
the baby chortles in its spit
and there is a dull flush
almost of beauty to the woman’s face

as she says, looking at me
quietly, I won’t have any more.
In a case like this I know
quick action is the main thing.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Complete Destruction by William Carlos Williams

Complete Destruction

It was an icy day. 
We buried the cat, 
then took her box
and set fire to it
in the back yard.
Those fleas that escaped
earth and fire
died by the cold.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Branch Library by Edward Hirsch

Branch Library

I wish I could find that skinny, long-beaked boy
who perched in the branches of the old branch library.

He spent the Sabbath flying between the wobbly stacks
and the flimsy wooden tables on the second floor, 

pecking at nuts, nesting in broken spines, scratching
notes under his own corner patch of sky.

I'd give anything to find that birdy boy again
bursting out into the dusky blue afternoon

with his satchel of scrawls and scribbles,
radiating heat, singing with joy. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

River Sound Remembered by W. S. Merwin

River Sound Remembered

That day the huge water drowned all voices until
It seemed a kind of silence unbroken
By anything: a time unto itself and still;

So that when I turned away from its roaring, down
The path over the gully, and there were
Dogs barking as always at the edge of town,

Car horns and the cries of children coming
As though for the first time through the fading light
Of the winter dusk, my ears still sang

Like shells with the swinging current, and
Its flood echoing in me held for long
About me the same silence, by whose sound

I could hear only the quiet under the day
With the land noises floating there far-off and still;
So that even in my mind now turning away

From having listened absently but for so long
It will be the seethe and drag of the river
That I will hear longer than any mortal song.