Sunday, August 31, 2014

Recurring Awakening by Franz Wright

Recurring Awakening

I stop a tall girl all in blue on the hall
and receive first a harried and desultory apology
then, point blank, news that you passed late last night.
You passed at three-thirty in the morning.
What is it, some sort of exam?
She smiles at herself,
epicenter of this
revelation, I find myself walking along
a high ridge in the wake of an ice storm
at the heart of some annihilated fairy tale
of forest in West Virginia,
a redwing blackbird’s
feet clenched to one crystal branch
per deceased tree: eyes stitched shut
and beak wide open.
And finally, there it is: your face, floating
at my feet with nose pressed to transparent black ice;
yes, you are certainly dead, all the signs point to it.
Wrapped in white cerements,
white face more youthful
and grave than I have ever seen it, frowning slightly
as though it were reading, one eye blind
in a blond swath of hair,
vague smile like the velvet depression
the lost diamond has left in its case;
now strangely you are moving
in a wide circle around me, stepping
sideways in time
to some slow stately dance
hand in hand
with the handless
in their identical absence
of affect, lips moving in unison.
I can’t hear a thing, but it’s said
the instant of being aware we are sleeping
and the instant of waking are one
and the same—and thus, against delusion
we possess this defense.
Only if you refuse
to respond, if I can only write you,
and write on black wind-blurred water, what’s the use?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Chronic by D. A. Powell


were lifted over the valley, its steepling dustdevils
the redwinged blackbirds convened
vibrant arc their swift, their dive against the filmy, the finite air

the profession of absence, of being absented, a lifting skyward
then gone
the moment of flight: another resignation from the sweep of earth

jackrabbit, swallowtail, harlequin duck: believe in this refuge
vivid tips of oleander
white and red perimeters where no perimeter should be

               here is another in my long list of asides:
why have I never had a clock that actually gained time?
that apparatus, which measures out the minutes, is our own image
                         forever losing

and so the delicate, unfixed condition of love, the treacherous body
the unsettling state of creation and how we have damaged—
isn’t one a suitable lens through which to see another:
               filter the body, filter the mind, filter the resilient land

and by resilient I mean which holds
              which tolerates the inconstant lover, the pitiful treatment
the experiment, the untried & untrue, the last stab at wellness

choose your own adventure: drug failure or organ failure
cataclysmic climate change
or something akin to what’s killing bees—colony collapse

more like us than we’d allow, this wondrous swatch of rough

why do I need to say the toads and moor and clouds—
in a spring of misunderstanding, I took the cricket’s sound

and delight I took in the sex of every season, the tumble on moss
the loud company of musicians, the shy young bookseller
anonymous voices that beckoned to ramble
             to be picked from the crepuscule at the forest’s edge

until the nocturnal animals crept forth
             their eyes like the lamps in store windows
                          forgotten, vaguely firing a desire for home

hence, the body’s burden, its resolute campaign:  trudge on

and if the war does not shake us from our quietude, nothing will

I carry the same baffled heart I have always carried
             a bit more battered than before, a bit less joy
for I see the difficult charge of living in this declining sphere

by the open air, I swore out my list of pleasures:
sprig of lilac, scent of pine
the sparrows bathing in the drainage ditch, their song

the lusty thoughts in spring as the yellow violets bloom
              and the cherry forms its first full buds
the tonic cords along the legs and arms of youth
              and youth passing into maturity, ripening its flesh
growing softer, less unattainable, ruddy and spotted plum

daily, I mistake—there was a medication I forgot to take
there was a man who gave himself, decently, to me & I refused him

in a protracted stillness, I saw that heron I didn’t wish to disturb
was clearly a white sack caught in the redbud’s limbs

I did not comprehend desire as a deadly force until—
              daylight, don’t leave me now, I haven’t done with you—
                            nor that, in this late hour, we still cannot make peace

if I, inconsequential being that I am, forsake all others
how many others correspondingly forsake this world

               light, light: do not go
I sing you this song and I will sing another as well

Thursday, August 28, 2014

For a Snow Leopard in October by Lucie Brock-Broido

For a Snow Leopard in October

Stay, little ounce, here in
                                           Fleece and leaf with me, in the evermore
Where swans trembled in the lake around our bed of hay and morning
Came each morning like a felt cloak billowing

Across the most pale day.  It was the color of a steeple disappearing
In an old Venetian sky.  Or of a saint tamping the grenadine

Of his heavy robes before the Blessing of the Animals.
I've heard tell of men who brought Great Pyrenees, a borzoi, or

Some pocket mice, baskets of mourning doves beneath their wicker lids,
A chameleon on a leash from the Prussian circuses,

And from the farthest Caucasus, some tundra wolves in pairs.

                                                                          In a meadow I had fallen

As deep in sleep as a trilobite in the red clay of the centuries.
Even now, just down our winding road, I can hear the children blanketing

Themselves to sleep in leaves from maple trees.
                                           No bad dreams will come to them I know

Because once, in the gone-ago, I was a lynx as well, safe as a tiger-iris
In its silt on the banks of the Euphrates, as you were.  Would they take

You now from me, like Leonardo's sleeve disappearing in
                                           The air.  And when I woke I could not wake

You, little sphinx, I could not keep you here with me.
Anywhere, I could not bear to let you go.  Stay here

In our clouded bed of wind and timothy with me.
                                            Lie here with me in snow.

What Work Is by Philip Levine

What Work Is

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to   
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,   
just because you don’t know what work is.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Panther by Rainer Maria Rilke

The Panther

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly—. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

(Translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In Another Country by Philip Levine

In Another Country

A man spreads out dried fruit
on an old blanket and lets the flies
descend in a frenzy. When I try to shoo
them away he squats down to eye level,
takes my right hand delicately in his,
shakes his head, and mumbles
what might be a prayer or words
of advice or a curse. I don’t know
because no one here—neither the sellers
nor the buyers—speaks a language
I understand. An old grandfather
whose white hair halos his head
sits cross-legged on the damp grass
smoking his pipe, his eyes closed.
His wares: a pyramid of stained teeth.
Shall I assume he is the dentist
of the town? There is no town, only
fields of long grass blowing in the wind
and beyond the wind the gray mountains.
A young woman, her forehead
and cheeks a web of delicate tattoos,
holds out a bowl of red powder.
Her eyes are so alive I have to
look away. She licks a forefinger,
then jabs it into the powder and offers
me a taste. Blue and white pennants
fly from the tent poles. Women and children
on muleback stream down from the hills
or from nowhere. The powder tastes
like nothing I know, not bitter like
orange rind nor sweet like ground
rose petals nor bland like dyed flour.
I had heard there were storks nesting
on the haystacks and on the tallest
chimneys of the remote villages,
and that wild, black-winged falcons
circled the fields all day keeping
watch over the land, feeding on whatever
came to rest. I saw none of that;
the only birds were tiny and caged,
beating their wings against the bars,
chattering like distant voices in dreams.
I’ve forgotten how I got there. I know
I knelt to a cold stream to wash my face
and wakened to music, an odd beat,
a melody I’d heard before. I followed
the sound over a rise to the open field
where the sun poured down its grace
on the long grass, the animals, the men
and women. The wind kept prodding
at my back as though determined
to push me away from where I was,
fearful, perhaps, I would come to rest.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Flight by Franz Wright



That glass was it filled with alcohol, water, or light

At ten
I turned you into a religion

The solitary
four-foot priest of you, I kept
the little manger candle
burning, I
kept your black half-inch of
in the hiding place

of the world

That empty



In which city was it, in fourth or fifth grade, Mother read in the newspaper you'd be appearing and dressed me up in suit
and little tie
and took me
I wanted to run to you—who were all these people?—
I sat alone beaming
at you who could not meet my eyes, and after
you shyly approached
and shook my hand


If I'm walking the streets of a city
covering every square inch of the continent
all its lights out
and empty of people,
even then
you are there

If I'm walking the streets
overwhelmed with this love for the living

I will still be a blizzard at sea

Since you left me at eight I have always been lonely

star-far from the person right next to me, but

closer to me than my bones you

you are there


It's 1963 again, the old Minneapolis airport so vast
        to me, and I am running
after the long flight alone I am running
into your huge arms—
I am forty-five now and I am dreaming
we are together again we are both forty-five
and I have you all to myself this time, and we are walking
together we're walking down a glowing-blue tunnel
we're on time for our flight, I can hardly believe it
we are traveling somewhere together alone
God knows where we are going, and who cares
we're together, walking
and happily talking
and laughing, and breathing.

The Emperor of Ice-Cream by Wallace Stevens

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Because I could not stop for death by Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for death (712)

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity –

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I Didn’t Apologize to the Well by Mahmoud Darwish

I Didn’t Apologize to the Well

I didn’t apologize to the well when I passed the well, 
I borrowed from the ancient pine tree a cloud 
and squeezed it like an orange, then waited for a gazelle 
white and legendary. And I ordered my heart to be patient: 
Be neutral as if you were not of me! Right here 
the kind shepherds stood on air and evolved 
their flutes, then persuaded the mountain quail toward 
the snare. And right here I saddled a horse for flying toward 
my planets, then flew. And right here the priestess 
told me: Beware of the asphalt road and the cars 
and walk upon your exhalation. Right here 
I slackened my shadow and waited, I picked the tiniest 
rock and stayed up late. I broke the myth and I broke. 
And I circled the well until I flew from myself 
to what isn’t of it. A deep voice shouted at me: 
This grave isn’t your grave. So I apologized. 
I read verses from the wise holy book, and said 
to the unknown one in the well: Salaam upon you the day 
you were killed in the land of peace, and the day you rise 
from the darkness of the well alive! 

(Translated by Fady Joudah)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

St. Roach by Muriel Rukeyser

St. Roach

For that I never knew you, I only learned to dread you,
for that I never touched you, they told me you are filth,
they showed me by every action to despise your kind;
for that I saw my people making war on you,
I could not tell you apart, one from another,
for that in childhood I lived in places clear of you,
for that all the people I knew met you by
crushing you, stamping you to death, they poured boiling
water on you, they flushed you down,
for that I could not tell one from another
only that you were dark, fast on your feet, and slender.
Not like me.
For that I did not know your poems
And that I do not know any of your sayings
And that I cannot speak or read your language
And that I do not sing your songs
And that I do not teach our children
to eat your food
or know your poems
or sing your songs
But that we say you are filthing our food
But that we know you not at all.

Yesterday I looked at one of you for the first time.
You were lighter that the others in color, that was
neither good nor bad.
I was really looking for the first time.
You seemed troubled and witty.

Today I touched one of you for the first time.
You were startled, you ran, you fled away
Fast as a dancer, light, strange, and lovely to the touch.
I reach, I touch, I begin to know you. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rubaiyat by Lawrence Joseph


The holes burned in the night.
Holes you can look through and see
the stump of a leg, a bloody
bandage, flies on the gauze; a pulled-up

satellite image of a major
military target, a 3-D journey
into a landscape of hills and valleys . . .
All of it from real-world data.

Zoom in close enough—the shadows
of statues, the swimming pools of palaces . . .
closer—a garden of palm trees,
oranges and lemons. chickens, sheep;

a map being sketched on a scrap
of paper; a fist coming down firmly
on the table; a tray with a dish
of lamb, and a bowl of rice and pine nuts.

Yes, that's it. I've become
too clear-sighted—the mechanics of power
are too transparent. Yes, that's
precisely it. The creation

of a deep-down pit, a slag heap
of broken masonry, of twisted metal,
a persistent ringing noise from inside
as if thousands of telephones have been

left off the hook. Did you notice that?
The Pentagon's "Military Diaries
Project," soldiers starring in their own
war movies, training digital cameras

on themselves—a child is put
in a wheelbarrow after stepping on a mine.
Politics? Personified. His head
permanently cocked, he is attended

by a team of physicians
and an electronic-implant engineer.
He hopes he'll be able to confer
with the Shah of Iran in Cairo. "Dead?

The Shah? Really? No one's said a thing
to me about it," his response to the response
of a diplomatic press correspondent.
Poetry's not what's made impossible

by it—laughter is. Is it even
farce?—the translator, for example, who,
because of threats, is wearing a bulletproof
vest and a large pair of army goggles

for disguise, the sniper who slides
a condom over the muzzle of his gun
 to keep the sand out. I try to get
the chronology straight . . . I look

out on the harbor, in the blue light.
I type into my machine. Perhaps
a glance at the newspaper. I listen
closely and I don't listen at all . . .

How complicated do you think the geopolitical
background behind all of this is? Brains
uprooted and warped, the logic's
schizophrenic. What's that again? A poem,

a speech, of lament, a threnody.
A poem of thoughts, of consequences.
Time flows, is flowing, forward and back.
I lift a spoon, my hand is trembling. How many

corpses are counted and for what reasons?
That's what was said. The captured are blinded
except one blinded in one eye only
will lead the others back. What? War

as a living text? Cyberwar and permanent
war, Third Wave War, neocortical war,
Sixth Generation War, Fourth Epoch
War, pure war and war of computers

to process it, systems
to represent it, war of myth
and metaphor, of trope and assent,
war of hundreds of millions of televisions

assuring it, hundreds of billions
of dollars, a PK machine gun or two, a few
gunmen you can hire cheap, with their own
Kalashnikovs. Now . . . what now?

I want you to watch carefully
what I am saying now—are you
with me? An inch-long piece of steel,
part of the artillery shell's

casing, sliced through the right eye
into his brain, severely damaging
the optic nerve of his left eye,
spraying bone splinters

into the brain, making him quick to lose
his temper, so acutely sensitive to pain
the skin on his face hurts
when wind blows against it . . .

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Home to Roost by Kay Ryan

Home to Roost

The chickens
are circling and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,
the sky is dark
with chickens,
dense with them.
They turn and
then they turn
again. These
are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
and small—
various breeds.
Now they have
come home
to roost—all
the same kind
at the same speed.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Jacket Notes by Ishmael Reed

Jacket Notes

Being a colored poet
Is like going over
Niagara Falls in a

An 8 year old can do what
You do unaided
The barrel maker doesn't
Think you can cut it

The gawkers on the bridge
Hope you fall on your

The tourist bus full of
Paying customers broke-down
Just out of Buffalo

Some would rather dig
The postcards than
Catch your act

A mile from the drink
It begins to storm

But what really hurts is
You're bigger than the

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Collective Death by Ghassan Zaqtan

Collective Death

Evening didn’t come without its darkness
we slept roofless but with cover
and no survivor came in the night
to tell us of the death of others.
The roads kept whistling
and the place was packed with the murdered
who came from the neighboring quarter
whose screams escaped toward us.
We saw and heard
the dead walk on air
tied by the thread of their shock
their rustle pulling our bodies
off our glowing straw mats.
A glistening blade
kept falling over the roads.
The women gave birth only to those who passed
and the women will not give birth

(Translated by Fady Joudah)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mr. Cogito Meditates on Suffering by Zbigniew Herbert

Mr. Cogito Meditates on Suffering

All attempts to remove
the so-called cup of bitterness—
by reflection 
frenzied actions on behalf of homeless cats 
deep breathing
one must consent
gently bend the head
not wring the hands
make use of the suffering gently moderately
like an artificial limb
without false shame
but also without unnecessary pride 

do not brandish the stump
over the heads of others
don’t knock with the white cane
against the windows of the well-fed

drink the essence of bitter herbs
but not to the dregs
leave carefully 
a few sips for the future

but simultaneously
isolate within yourself
and if it is possible
create from the matter of suffering
a thing or a person

with it
of course
entertain it
very cautiously
like a sick child
forcing at last
with silly tricks
a faint

(Translated from the Polish by John and Bogdana Carpenter)

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Auroras of Autumn by Wallace Stevens

The Auroras of Autumn

The season changes. A cold wind chills the beach.
The long lines of it grow longer, emptier,
A darkness gathers though it does not fall

And the whiteness grows less vivid on the wall.
The man who is walking turns blankly on the sand.
He observes how the north is always enlarging the change,

With its frigid brilliances, its blue-red sweeps
And gusts of great enkindlings, its polar green,
The color of ice and fire and solitude.