Monday, June 30, 2014

This Is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Conjugation of the Paramecium by Muriel Rukeyser

The Conjugation of the Paramecium

This has nothing
 to do with

The species
is continued
as so many are
(among the smaller creatures)
by fission 

(and this species
is very small
next in order to
the amoeba, the beginning one) 

The paramecium
achieves, then,
by dividing 

But when
the paramecium
desires renewal
strength another joy
this is what 
the paramecium does: 

The paramecium
lies down beside
another paramecium 

Slowly inexplicably
the exchange
takes place
in which
some bits
of the nucleus of each
are exchanged 

for some bits 
of the nucleus
of the other 

This is called
the conjugation of the paramecium.

Mysticism For Beginners by Adam Zagajewski

Mysticism For Beginners

The day was mild, the light was generous.
The German on the café terrace
held a small book on his lap.
I caught sight of the title:
Mysticism for Beginners.
Suddenly I understood that the swallows
patrolling the streets of Montepulciano
with their shrill whistles,
and the hushed talk of timid travelers
from Eastern, so-called Central Europe,
and the white herons standing—yesterday? the day before?—
like nuns in fields of rice,
and the dusk, slow and systematic,
erasing the outlines of medieval houses,
and olive trees on little hills,
abandoned to the wind and heat,
and the head of the Unknown Princess
that I saw and admired in the Louvre,
and stained-glass windows like butterfly wings
sprinkled with pollen,
and the little nightingale practicing
its speech beside the highway,
and any journey, any kind of trip,
are only mysticism for beginners,
the elementary course, prelude
to a test that's been

(Translated by Clare Cavanagh)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Stranger by Gabriela Mistral

The Stranger

She speaks in her way of her savage seas
With unknown algae and unknown sands;
She prays to a formless, weightless God,
Aged, as if dying.
In our garden now so strange,
She has planted cactus and alien grass.
The desert zephyr fills her with its breath
And she has loved with a fierce, white passion
She never speaks of, for if she were to tell
It would be like the face of unknown stars.
Among us she may live for eighty years,
Yet always as if newly come,
Speaking a tongue that plants and whines
Only by tiny creatures understood.
And she will die here in our midst
One night of utmost suffering,
With only her fate as a pillow,
And death, silent and strange. 

(Translated by Helene Maslo Anderson)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Matches by Charles Simić


Very dark when I step
On the street
But then he shows up
The one who plays with matches
In my dreams

I have never seen
his face his eyes

Why do I always
Have to be so slow
And the matches already
Down to his fingertips

If it’s a house
Time only for a glimpse
If a woman—
Just a single kiss
Before the shadows converge

I could be dining
Making a snowball
Having my teeth pulled
By the Pope in Rome
Or running naked
Over a battlefield

The one with matches
Knows and won’t say
He likes only abandoned games
Illegible cities
Great loves that go out
in a puff

I Won’t Let You Go! by Rabindarath Tagore

I Won’t Let You Go!

The carriage is ready; it’s afternoon;
The late autumnal sun blazes;
A midday breeze swirls dust
Off the deserted rural road;
In the cool shade of a peepal tree
A worn out beggar woman dozes
On a tattered cloth. As in a night
Coming after an excess of sunlight
Everything is still, silent, somnolent—
Only my house is astir,
Its inmates incapable of sleep!

Autumn’s come and gone; holiday’s over,
I leave for my far off workplace.
Our servants run around the house
Packing bags and baggage with ropes and strings,
Although her eyes are full of tears,
And her heart is leaden, my wife
Has not a moment to sit down and cry.
She makes sure that everything is ready
For the journey. My bags are full,
But she thinks I don’t have enough!
I exclaim, “Must I take all?
Boxes, jugs, pots, pans and plates,
Bowls, bottles, and bedclothes too!
What will I do with so many things?
Let me only take some of them
And leave the rest behind.”

But nobody heeds me.
“What if you need this or that?
Where will you get them then?
Here I’ve fine rice, excellent lentils
Betel leaves and areca nuts; in those bowls
Are date-palm molasses and ripe coconuts;
There two jugs of the best mustard oil,
Mango cakes, dried mango sticks and milk,
Here in these bottles, medicines
And in those bowls, delicious sweets—
Promise, dear, you’ll eat them!”
I realize it’s pointless to protest
And let bags and baggage pile up.
I look at my watch and then my dear wife,
And say softly, “Goodbye.”
She glances away, turning her head,
Hiding her face in her sari’s edge,
Fighting tears lest they bring bad luck.

My four-year-old daughter waits outside
Pensively. Any other day,
She would have had a bath by now
And before she had taken a bite or two,
Her eyelids would droop in sleep.
This day her mother has no time for her
And hasn’t noticed that she hasn’t bathed
Or had lunch. All this time she had been
Sticking close to me like my shadow,
Watching my going-away rituals in rapt silence.
Tired now, thinking who knows what,
She stands outside the door silently.
When I say, “Goodbye darling,”
She declares sad-eyed and solemnly,
“I won’t let you go,” staying put,
Making no attempt to take me by the arm
Or blocking my way; as if proclaiming thus
The dictate of her heart. As if only saying
“I won’t let you go” was enough.
And yet the time has come, alas!
She has to let me go!

Silly daughter of mine, was it you speaking?
What gave you the strength
To say so emphatically, “I won’t let you go”?
What made you feel you could stop me
From leaving with only a pair of hands?
How could you think of holding me back
And blocking me with your frail little body
Stirred only by a heart full of love?
Timid and shy as we are, the most we say
Even when our heart bursts with pain is
“Don’t feel like letting you go!”
And to hear your little mouth declare firmly
“I won’t let you go,” to hear you assert
Love’s claim with such intensity!
And yet I feel the world smiling wryly
As it takes me away from my family.
I bid leave, but as in a framed picture,
I register the little one’s image—defeated,
In tears, sitting in the doorway,
And I wipe my tears and leave.

As I depart I see on both sides of the road
Ripening paddy fields basking in the sun.
Towering trees border the highway,
And reflect intently on their own shades.
The autumnal Ganges is in full flow.
White cloudlets recline on a blue sky,
Like newborn calves who’ve had their fill
Of their mother’s milk and sleep peacefully.
I sigh as I look at bright sunlight
Spreading across old, exhausted earth.

What immense sadness has engulfed
The entire sky and the whole world!
The farther I go the more clearly I hear
Those poignant words “Won’t let you go!”
From world’s end to the blue dome of the sky
Echoes the eternal cry: “Won’t let you go!”
Everything cries, “I won’t let you go!”
Mother Earth too cries out to the tiny grass
It hugs on its bosom, “I won’t let you go!”
Someone trying to snatch from darkness
The flame of a dying lamp exclaims
A hundred times, “I won’t let you go!”
It’s the oldest cry resounding from earth to heaven
The solemnest lament, “I won’t let you go!”
And yet, alas, we have to let go; and yet,
Of course, we must go. And this is how it has been,
From time immemorial. Since creation’s currents
Began streaming relentlessly towards extinction’s sea
With burning eyes and outstretched arms
We’ve all been crying out in vain endlessly,
“Won’t let go, won’t let you go!”
Filling earth’s shores with laments
As everything ebbs inexorably away.
The waves up front cry out to the ones in the rear,
“Won’t let go, won’t let you go!”—
But no one listens. . .

Everywhere around me this day I hear
My daughter’s plaintive voice; it keeps ringing
In my ears and piercing the heart of the universe.
Earth resounds with a child’s unreasonable cry.
Forever it loses what it gets and yet it won’t
Slacken its grip; forever it calls us
With unending love like my four-year-old daughter:
“Won’t let you go!” Though sad-faced and in tears,
Its pride shattered at every step,
Love refuses to accept defeat and cries out
In desperation, “Won’t let you go!”
Defeated each time it blurts out,
“Can the one I love stay away?
Can anything in the universe compare
In strength or be as boundless as my desire?”
And even as it proclaims proudly,
“Won’t let you go” the one it treasures
Is blown away instantly, like dust
Wafted by the arid wayward breeze. And then
Tears stream down its eyes. Like a tree
Uprooted, it collapses headfirst, humiliated.
And yet Love insists, “God keeps his Word
I have proof in the pledge He made of a right
Given eternally.” And thus emboldened,
Fragile Love stands up to Death
And boasts, “Death, you don’t exist!”
Death laughs at such folly. And so Love,
Undying, though weighed down by Death,
Pervades the universe, solemn-faced,
Full of fears, forever in a flutter and tears.
A weary hopefulness covers the world
Like a gray fog. I see two inconsolable arms
Vainly trying to bind saddened, silent earth.
Under swift currents a quiet shade—
The allure of a cloud that will soon shed tears.

And thus this day the rustling trees
Induce in me yearnings. In midday heat
The lazy indifferent wind plays listlessly
With dry leaves. The slow day wanes,
Lengthening the shade under the banyan tree.
Eternity’s flute plays a pastoral lament
Heard over the universe. Responding,
Listless Earth sits down in a paddy field
By the river’s side, loosening her tresses,
Flinging a golden scarf across her bosom
That gleams in the golden sun. She is silent,
Her eyes still as she looks at the distant blue sky.
I take a look at her sad, sorrowful face,
As if in a doorway, silent, absorbed, sad.
Just like my four-year-old daughter!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Front Bar at the Lone Star by Thom Gunn

Front Bar at the Lone Star               

Fat flesh egg
400 lbs. of him
set firmly on
the toothpick stool.
Fat, fat.
Styles change:
use a new word
and what you see is new.
Great not gross now,
chubby not fat.
Great flesh daddy,
chubby-chaser’s delight.
Contempt or pity
of twenty years
melted in admiration

Some feet distant
what slender youth!
gaze fixed on
this dream of quantity.
Encouraged, squeezes
to the adjacent stool:
just enough room
for flirting from.

The point of the heart-
shaped Raphael face
gave way to
the sporty chin
of the Gibson girl.
Styles change.
The democracy of it:
eventually everyone
can hope for a turn
at being wanted.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Compost by Dan Chelotti


There is magic in decay.
A dance to be done
For the rotting, the maggot strewn
Piles of flesh which pile
Upon the dung-ridden earth
And the damp that gathers
And rusts and defiles.
There is a bit of this
In even the most zoetic soul — 
The dancing child’s arms
Flailing to an old ska song
Conduct the day-old flies
Away to whatever rank
Native is closest. Just today
I was walking along the river
With my daughter in my backpack
And I opened my email
On my phone and Duffie
Had sent me a poem
Called “Compost.” I read it
To my little girl and started
To explain before I was three
Words in Selma started
Yelling, Daddy, Daddy, snake!
In the path was a snake,
Belly up and still nerve-twitching
The ghost of some passing
Bicycle or horse. Pretty, Selma said.
Yes, I said. And underneath my yes
Another yes, the yes to my body,
Just beginning to show signs
Of slack, and another, my grasping
In the dark for affirming flesh
That in turn says yes, yes
Let’s rot together but not until
We’ve drained what sap
Is left in these trees.
And I wake in the morning
And think of the coroner
Calling to ask what color
My father’s eyes were,
And I asked, Why? Why can’t
You just look — and the coroner,
Matter-of-factly says, Decay.
Do you want some eggs, my love?
I have a new way of preparing them.
And look, look outside, I think this weather
Has the chance of holding.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Nativity by Franz Wright


At the conclusion of nine months’
silent communion,
interrupted on occasion
by long one-sided conversations
of a teary and somewhat excessively candid nature,
and after some very loud mutual screaming,
the two were at last introduced. A shadow
as of vast wings passed across them,
in a manner of speaking: he slept, the
small bud of face unclenched. Later on,
still drowsing, he was relatively certain
he had at some point overheard her claim
that while nursing he never stopped staring
into her eyes, which was fair enough; but
when she added that she felt like she was being judged,
right away he sensed things getting out of hand.
That night he lay awake pondering
the matter for many hours, compelled at last
to find her accusation jejune, massively
unsubstantiated, unwitnessed by anyone
but the accuser, pathetically, and tinged with paranoia—
not a trait, incidentally, you are happy to see
in the person with whom you’ll be sharing the next couple decades.
I have done no such thing, he concluded.
In addition, while she remained perfectly free
to fall in line with the mores and laws handed down
by the sheep who exist, his own adamant intent was
to go on waiting for word from his god, who did not.
And, he muttered irritably, “I want a harmonica.”

The End and the Beginning by Wisława Szymborska

The End and the Beginning

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

(Translated by Joanna Trzeciak)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Walls by Constantin P. Cavafy


Without pity, without shame, without consideration
they've built around me enormous, towering walls.

And I sit here now in growing desperation.
This fate consumes my mind, I think of nothing else:

because I had so many things to do out there.
O while they built the walls, why did I not look out?

But no noise, no sound from the builders did I hear.
Imperceptibly they shut me off from the world without.

(Translation by Daniel Mendelsohn)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Visit by Marie Ponsot

A Visit

      Fine bitches all, and Molly Dance   ...
               — Djuna Barnes

Come for duty’s sake (as girls do) we watch
The sly very old woman wile away from her pious
And stagger-blind friend, their daily split of gin.
She pours big drinks. We think of what
Has crumpled, folded, slumped her flesh in
And muddied her once tumbling blood that, young,
Sped her, threaded with brave power: a Tower,
Now Babel, then of  ivory, of  the Shulamite,
Collapsed to this keen dame moving among
Herself. She hums, she plays with used bright
Ghosts, makes real dolls, and drinking sings Come here
My child, and feel it, dear. A crooking finger
Shows how hot the oven is.

(Also she is alive with hate.
Also she is afraid of  hell. Also, we wish
We might, illiberal, uncompassionate,
Run from her smell, her teeth in the dish.)

Even dying, her life riots in her. We stand stock still
Though aswarm with itches under her disreputable smiles.
We manage to mean well. We endure, and more.
We learn time’s pleasure, catch our future and its cure.
We’re dear blood daughters to this every hag, and near kin
To any after this of  those our mirrors tell us foolishly envy us,
Presuming us, who are young, to be beautiful, kind, and sure.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mr Cogito’s Monster by Zbigniew Herbert

Mr Cogito’s Monster


The lucky Saint George
could judge the dragon’s
strength and movements
from his knightly saddle

strategy’s first principle
size up the enemy well

Mr Cogito’s position
is less advantageous

he’s seated in the low
saddle of the valley
wrapped in thick fog

in the fog you can’t make out
the burning eyes
the greedy claws
the maw

in the fog
you see only
the flickering of nothingness

Mr Cogito’s monster
lacks all dimensions

it’s hard to describe
it eludes definitions

it’s like a vast depression
hanging over the country

it can’t be pierced
by a pen
an argument
a spear

if not for its stifling weight
and the death it sends
you might conclude
that it was a phantom
a disease of the imagination

but it’s there
it’s there all right

it fills crannies of houses
temples bazaars like gas

it poisons the wells
destroys a mind’s constructs
covers the bread with mold

proof the monster exists
is offered by its victims

indirect proof
but sufficient


the sensible say
you can coexist
with the monster

just try to avoid
violent gestures
violent speech
when threatened
take on the form
of a stone or leaf

obey wise Nature
who urges mimicry

breathe shallowly
play we’re not here

Mr Cogito however
dislikes living as-if

he’d like to fight
the monster
on solid ground

so he goes out at dawn
to the sleeping suburbs
intrepidly fitted out
with a long sharp object

he calls to the monster
through empty streets

he insults the monster
provokes the monster

like the daredevil scout
of a non-existent army

he calls—come out you dirty coward
through the fog
you see only
the huge mug of nothingness

Mr Cogito wants to
join the unequal fray

this should happen
as soon as possible

before he is felled
by powerlessness
common death without glory
suffocation by shapelessness

Monday, June 9, 2014

One Train May Hide Another by Kenneth Koch

One Train May Hide Another

In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line--
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it's best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.
One father or one brother may hide the man,
If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.
So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.
One wish may hide another. And one person's reputation may hide
The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you're not necessarily safe;
One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia
Antica one tomb
May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide another,
One small complaint may hide a great one.
One injustice may hide another--one colonial may hide another,
One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One bath
may hide another bath
As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.
One idea may hide another: Life is simple
Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory
One invention may hide another invention,
One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
One dark red, or one blue, or one purple--this is a painting
By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The obstetrician
Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I, but
One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.
A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in
A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag
Bigger than her mother's bag and successfully hides it.
In offering to pick up the daughter's bag one finds oneself confronted by
the mother's
And has to carry that one, too. So one hitchhiker
May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee
Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another love
or the same love
As when "I love you" suddenly rings false and one discovers
The better love lingering behind, as when "I'm full of doubts"
Hides "I'm certain about something and it is that"
And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In the
Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading 
A Sentimental Journey look around
When you have finished, for Tristram Shandy, to see
If it is standing there, it should be, stronger
And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore
May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk
May hide another, as when you're asleep there, and
One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
foot of a tree
With one and when you get up to leave there is another
Whom you'd have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It 
can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens

Sunday Morning


Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.


Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul.


Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
A part of labor and a part of pain,
And next in glory to enduring love,
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.


She says, “I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?”
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured
As April’s green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.


She says, “But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss.”
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.


Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.


Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.


She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, “The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.”
We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.