Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Formulas For Oblivion by Mark Strand

Formulas For Oblivion

1.  Casting the first stone after which the hands cast
 themselves and the arms and so on until you feel
you have cast yourself after the first stone
into oblivion.

2.  Eating your own words by which you will grow thin,
depleted, finally, of even a mouth to care for
the orphaned tongue or the tired foot.

3.  Turning yourself inside out so the features you are
known by become obvious secrets and the hidden
parts of yourself become a mask of honesty.
Thus you will never know who you are; oblivion
has begun to tell you who you are

4.  Lending the helping hand and keeping the other one
to yourself. The helping hand will feed your
friend, the other one will feel abandoned.
What happens is clear: you lose your friend
and die alone, a victim of the helping hand’s
selfish refusal to aid the other one.

5.  Cutting off your nose to spite your face. For the
beauty of absence is catching and the face will
want to spite the nose by having it back and then
will beg to be cut off from it. This will go on.

6.  Taking everything to heart and allowing yourself no
rest but what is impossible to take, which is

7.  Killing the thing you love and spending each night
with its ghost. Forcing your passion into an
absence is a common approach to oblivion.

8.  Sticking your head in the lion’s mouth and seeing
the remnants of your past: the tongue of your
father, the teeth of your mother, your own head
grinning back.

9.  Saving the best for last while consuming the worst
at the start. For the worst tastes better when
you know the best is to come. Doubts will arise.
After a while you may not believe the best will
be last and oblivion will take you for better
or worse.

10.  Giving yourself the benefit of the doubt which is the
surest and truest formula for oblivion.

A Curse Against Elegies by Anne Sexton

A Curse Against Elegies

Oh, love, why do we argue like this?
I am tired of all your pious talk.
Also, I am tired of all the dead.
They refuse to listen,
so leave them alone.
Take your foot out of the graveyard,
they are busy being dead.

Everyone was always to blame:
the last empty fifth of booze,
the rusty nails and chicken feathers
that stuck in the mud on the back doorstep,
the worms that lived under the cat's ear
and the thin-lipped preacher
who refused to call
except once on a flea-ridden day
when he came scuffing in through the yard
looking for a scapegoat.
I hid in the kitchen under the ragbag.

I refuse to remember the dead.
And the dead are bored with the whole thing.
But you - you go ahead,
go on, go on back down
into the graveyard,
lie down where you think their faces are;
talk back to your old bad dreams.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The First Supper by Franz Wright

The First Supper

Death, heaven, bread, breath and the sea

to scare me

But I too will be fed by
the other food
that I know nothing
of, the breath
the death
the sea of

when the almond does not
blossom and the grasshopper drags itself along

But if You can make a star from nothing You can raise me up

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Fable by Louise Glück

A Fable

Two women with
the same claim
came to the feet of
the wise king. Two women,
but only one baby.
The king knew
someone was lying.
What he said was
Let the child be
cut in half; that way
no one will go
empty-handed. He
drew his sword.
Then, of the two
women, one
renounced her share:
this was
the sign, the lesson.
you saw your mother
torn between two daughters:
what could you do
to save her but be
willing to destroy
yourself—she would know
who was the rightful child,
the one who couldn’t bear
to divide the mother.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Icelandic Hurricane by Tomas Tranströmer

Icelandic Hurricane

No earth tremor, but a skyquake. Turner could have painted it, secured by ropes. A single mitten whirled past right now, several miles from its hand. Facing the storm I am heading for that house on the other side of the field. I flutter in the hurricane. I am being x-rayed, my skeleton hands in its application for discharge. Panic grows while I tack about, I am wrecked, I am wrecked and drown on dry land! How heavy it is, all that I suddenly have to carry, how heavy it is for the butterfly to tow a barge! There at last. A final bout of wrestling with the door.  And now inside.  Behind the huge window-pane. What a strange and magnificent invention glass is—to be close without being stricken. . . Outside a horde of transparent splinters of gigantic shapes rush across the lava plain. But I flutter no more. I sit behind the glass, still, my own portrait.

(Translated by Göran Malmqvist) 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The People of the Other Village by Thomas Lux

The People of the Other Village

hate the people of this village
and would nail our hats
to our heads for refusing in their presence to remove them
or staple our hands to our foreheads
for refusing to salute them
if we did not hurt them first: mail them packages of rats,
mix their flour at night with broken glass.
We do this, they do that.
They peel the larynx from one of our brothers’ throats.
We devein one of their sisters.
The quicksand pits they built were good.
Our amputation teams were better.
We trained some birds to steal their wheat.
They sent to us exploding ambassadors of peace.
They do this, we do that.
We canceled our sheep imports.
They no longer bought our blankets.
We mocked their greatest poet
and when that had no effect
we parodied the way they dance
which did cause pain, so they, in turn, said our God
was leprous, hairless.
We do this, they do that.
Ten thousand (10,000) years, ten thousand
(10,000) brutal, beautiful years.

The Bear by Galway Kinnell

The Bear


In late winter
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam
coming up from
some fault in the old snow
and bend close and see it is lung-colored
and put down my nose
and know
the chilly, enduring odor of bear.


I take a wolf’s rib and whittle
it sharp at both ends
and coil it up
and freeze it in blubber and place it out
on the fairway of the bears.
And when it has vanished
I move out on the bear tracks,
roaming in circles
until I come to the first, tentative, dark
splash on the earth.
And I set out
running, following the splashes
of blood wandering over the world.
At the cut, gashed resting places
I stop and rest,
at the crawl-marks
where he lay out on his belly
to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice
I lie out
dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists.


On the third day I begin to starve,
at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would
at a turd sopped in blood,
and hesitate, and pick it up,
and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down,
and rise
and go on running.


On the seventh day,
living by now on bear blood alone,
I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled,
steamy hulk,
the heavy fur riffling in the wind.
I come up to him
and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes,
the dismayed
face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils
flared, catching
perhaps the first taint of me as he
I hack
a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink,
and tear him down his whole length
and open him and climb in
and close him up after me, against the wind,
and sleep.


And dream
of lumbering flatfooted
over the tundra,
stabbed twice from within,
splattering a trail behind me,
splattering it out no matter which way I lurch,
no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence,
which dance of solitude I attempt,
which gravity-clutched leap,
which trudge, which groan.


Until one day I totter and fall—
fall on this
stomach that has tried so hard to keep up,
to digest the blood as it leaked in,
to break up
and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze
blows over me, blows off
the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood
and rotted stomach
and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear,
blows across
my sore, lolled tongue a song
or screech, until I think I must rise up
and dance. And I lie still.


I awaken I think. Marshlights
reappear, geese
come trailing again up the flyway.
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear
lies, licking
lumps of smeared fur
and drizzly eyes into shapes
with her tongue. And one
hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me,
the next groaned out,
the next,
the next,
the rest of my days I spend
wandering: wondering
what, anyway,
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Let Me Begin Again by Philip Levine

Let Me Begin Again
Let me begin again as a speck
of dust caught in the night winds
sweeping out to sea. Let me begin
this time knowing the world is
salt water and dark clouds, the world
is grinding and sighing all night, and dawn
comes slowly and changes nothing. Let
me go back to land after a lifetime
of going nowhere. This time lodged
in the feathers of some scavenging gull
white above the black ship that docks
and broods upon the oily waters of
your harbor. This leaking freighter
has brought a hold full of hayforks
from Spain, great jeroboams of dark
Algerian wine, and quill pens that can’t
write English. The sailors have stumbled
off toward the bars of the bright houses.
The captain closes his log and falls asleep.
1/10’28. Tonight I shall enter my life
after being at sea for ages, quietly,
in a hospital named for an automobile.
The one child of millions of children
who has flown alone by the stars
above the black wastes of moonless waters
that stretched forever, who has turned
golden in the full sun of a new day.
A tiny wise child who this time will love
his life because it is like no other.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Again and Again and Again by Anne Sexton

Again and Again and Again

You said the anger would come back 
just as the love did. 

I have a black look I do not 
like. It is a mask I try on. 
I migrate toward it and its frog 
sits on my lips and defecates. 
It is old. It is also a pauper. 
I have tried to keep it on a diet. 
I give it no unction. 

There is a good look that I wear 
like a blood clot. I have 
sewn it over my left breast. 
I have made a vocation of it. 
Lust has taken plant in it 
and I have placed you and your 
child at its milk tip. 

Oh the blackness is murderous 
and the milk tip is brimming 
and each machine is working 
and I will kiss you when 
I cut up one dozen new men 
and you will die somewhat, 
again and again. 


Sunday, March 22, 2015

The History of One Tough Motherfucker by Charles Bukowski

The History of One Tough Motherfucker

he came to the door one night wet thin beaten and
a white cross-eyed tailless cat
I took him in and fed him and he stayed
grew to trust me until a friend drove up the driveway
and ran him over
I took what was left to a vet who said,"not much
chance…give him these pills…his backbone
is crushed, but is was crushed before and somehow
mended, if he lives he'll never walk, look at
these x-rays, he's been shot, look here, the pellets
are still there…also, he once had a tail, somebody
cut it off…"
I took the cat back, it was a hot summer, one of the
hottest in decades, I put him on the bathroom
floor, gave him water and pills, he wouldn't eat, he
wouldn't touch the water, I dipped my finger into it
and wet his mouth and I talked to him, I didn't go any-
where, I put in a lot of bathroom time and talked to
him and gently touched him and he looked back at
me with those pale blue crossed eyes and as the days went
by he made his first move
dragging himself forward by his front legs
(the rear ones wouldn't work)
he made it to the litter box
crawled over and in,
it was like the trumpet of possible victory
blowing in that bathroom and into the city, I
related to that cat-I'd had it bad, not that
bad but bad enough
one morning he got up, stood up, fell back down and
just looked at me.
"you can make it," I said to him.
he kept trying, getting up falling down, finally
he walked a few steps, he was like a drunk, the
rear legs just didn't want to do it and he fell again, rested,
then got up.
you know the rest: now he's better than ever, cross-eyed
almost toothless, but the grace is back, and that look in
his eyes never left…
and now sometimes I'm interviewed, they want to hear about
life and literature and I get drunk and hold up my cross-eyed,
shot, runover de-tailed cat and I say,"look, look
at this!"
but they don't understand, they say something like,"you
say you've been influenced by Celine?"
"no," I hold the cat up,"by what happens, by
things like this, by this, by this!"
I shake the cat, hold him up in
the smoky and drunken light, he's relaxed he knows…
it's then that the interviews end
although I am proud sometimes when I see the pictures
later and there I am and there is the cat and we are photo-
graphed together.
he too knows it's bullshit but that somehow it all helps.


Matins by Louise Glück


You want to know how I spend my time?
I walk the front lawn, pretending
to be weeding. You ought to know
I'm never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact
I'm looking for courage, for some evidence
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking
each clump for the symbolic
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already
the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?
As empty now as at the first note.
Or was the point always
to continue without a sign?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Bitterness by Philip Levine


Here in February, the fine
dark branches of the almond
begin to sprout tiny clusters
of leaves, sticky to the touch.
Not far off, about the length
of my morning shadow, the grass
is littered with the petals
of the plum that less than
a week ago blazed, a living
candle in the hand of earth.
I was living far off two years
ago, fifteen floors above
119th Street when I heard
a love of my young manhood
had died mysteriously in
a public ward. I did not
go out into the streets to
walk among the cold, sullen
poor of Harlem, I did not
turn toward the filthy window
to question a distant pale sky.
I did not do anything.
The grass is coming back, some
patches already bright, though
at this hour still silvered
with dew. By noon I can stand
sweating in the free air, spading
the difficult clay for the bare
roots of a pear or apple that
will give flower and fruit longer
than I care to think about.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Quartz Clock by Jane Hirshfield

Quartz Clock

The ideas of a physicist
can be turned into useful objects:
a rocket, a quartz clock,
a microwave oven for cooking.
The ideas of poems turn into only themselves,
as the hands of the clock do,
or the face of a person.
It changes, but only more into the person.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Love After Love by Derek Walcott

Love After Love 

The time will come 
when, with elation 
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, in your own mirror 
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self. 
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart 
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored 
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Love Poem by Louise Glück

Love Poem

There is always something to be made of pain.
Your mother knits.
She turns out scarves in every shade of red.
They were for Christmas, and they kept you warm
while she married over and over, taking you
along. How could it work,
when all those years she stored her widowed heart
as though the dead come back.
No wonder you are the way you are,
afraid of blood, your women
like one brick wall after another.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Livy’s Metamorphoses by Zbigniew Herbert

Livy’s Metamorphoses

How did my grandfather and his father understand Livy
for they surely read him at their classical gymnasium
in the somewhat unpropitious time of year
when a chestnut tree stands at the window—ardent candelabras of
and all my grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s thoughts ran panting to
singing in the garden showing her décolleté and goddess-like legs to the
or Gabi from the Vienna Opera with her cherub’s locks
Gabi with her snub nose and Mozart in her throat
or finally to good old Józia a refuge for the forlorn
she without beauty talent or extravagant demands
and so they read Livy—O season of budding flowers—
in the smell of chalk boredom naphthalene floor wash
under a portrait of the emperor
for there was an emperor then
and the empire like all empires
seemed eternal

Reading the City’s history they succumbed to the delusion
that they were the Romans or the decendants of Romans
those sons of the vanquished themselves under the yoke
it’s likely the Latin teacher had a part in it
with his position of counselor to the court
a collection of ancient virtues under a scruffy frock coat
following Livy he instilled in his pupils scorn for the mob
so popular revolt—res tam foeda—aroused their loathing
while on the other hand all the conquests seemed just
showing simply the victory of the superior stronger
they were pained by the defeat at Lake Trasimeno
while Scipio’s ascendancy filled them with pride
“they took Hannibal’s death with unfeigned relief
easily far too easily they let themselves be led
through entrenchments of dependent clauses
convoluted constructions ruled by the gerund
swollen rivers of elocution
syntactical booby traps
—into battle
for a cause not theirs

Not until my father and I after him did anyone
read Livy against Livy
studying closely what lies under the fresco
that’s why Scaevola’s theatrical gesture did not reverberate in us
nor did centurions’ cries or triumphal marches
and we tended to feel moved by the ruination
of the Samnites Gauls or Etruscans

we counted the many names of peoples the Romans trampled to dust
those buried without praise those who for Livy
were not worth even a ripple of style
those Hirpins Apuleans Lucanians Osunans
and residents of Tarentum Metapontis Locri

My father knew well and I know too
that one day on the farthest outskirts
without any signs from the heavens
in Pannonia Sarajevo or Trebizond
in a city on the cold sea
or in the valley of Panshir
a local fire will break out
and the empire will fall

Monday, March 9, 2015

Notorious by Cathy Park Hong

Biggum Wallah, Biggum Wallah, why so glum?
You in heaven, na, be happy.
You are Hip Hop’s Grand Panjandrum in white foxy mink
snuggly over your Bluto belly,
& this fleet of white Cucci Gucci Hummers is for you, ji.
Like a short-order cook slinging hash browns,
you slinged so many rhymes propho-rapping you will die,
now faput. Dead. Why so chee?

Ayaya, you in heaven for white people.
Wrong ear-sucking heaven.
Heaven does stink like mothballs, bibbit & whatsit,
you smell wet dog?
Milksop chatty angels with their Binaca grins, twibble:
“No Hennessy just seltzer, please,”
before they sing your hits a capella.

Shataa, Baagad Bullya,
very last straw, this Angrez-propogandhi.
Silly as a cricket in pubes.

Biggum Wallah bringing up demands, yar.
A smashation of clouds part to reveal the uretic sun
and swatting away chweetie pie cupids,
looms Fatmouth God,
frowning like rotten turbot.

But Biggita is VIP, sold records in millions tens,
so God sighs, relents & the Kleenex sky
melts to Op Art swirls
of Cherry Coke red, burning upup

white magnolias into a chain-link planet of asphalt
& black cell phone towers.
This more like it, sepoys, all hoosh
& video girl boomba-lathis drinking lychee lassis.
But where is your number 1 rap rival nemesis?
Where is 2Packi?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Desire by Langston Hughes


Desire to us
Was like a double death,
Swift dying
Of our mingled breath,
Of an unknown strange perfume
Between us quickly
In a naked

Saturday, March 7, 2015

My Night With Jeffrey Dahmer by Mark Wunderlich

My Night With Jeffrey Dahmer

—like any night spent out in a bar—this one
doused in the pall of neon, 1989, Formica,

brushed metal and the spin of sound in the club,
while downstairs in a darker bar, where the older men

enjoyed each other's company and where I had gone
to cool off, a man stood next to me

and knocked my beer to the floor, so sorry—he was
very sorry—hand on my arm as I bent to pick up

the bottle, one hand on my arm, the other signaling
to the bartender, holding up a finger then pointing

to the empty I proffered, put on the wood counter,
bottle which the keep swept away, replaced,

a cold, green glass already sweating a bit, beading
in the heat of the basement.

He was a stranger, older than I was by a decade or more,
blond and mustached, big glasses—some farmer's son—

a bit out-of-date, stuck as he was in the country,
a man driven in to the capital to spend a night

among others of his kind, away from his mother's kitchen,
the chilled hum of the bulk tank, and the cows

whose needs were at the center of a life spent in their service—
but no, he was from Milwaukee, he said, though to me

his words were unimportant—so sorry, let me, I'll get you
a new one, let me buy you one,

and so he took out his wallet and handed over his dollars,
and I suppose I looked to see

if he had left a tip since I always look for this,
having done already the work of service

in which you depend on the manners and guilt
and sense of custom of those you attend, their

generosity, their goodness, their notion
of what is normal and right, what to offer to others

in exchange for their help, their attentiveness, here
let me buy you a beer, so sorry for my clumsiness,

let me put this hand on your arm, do you live here,
are you at the university, do you like the music,

did I tell you my name?—his questions the questions
of any curious man talking to a farmer's son

in a bar in Madison, Wisconsin, asking my name which I withheld,
my name which I keep lodged between my teeth,

under my tongue, in the pocket of my clavicle,
in the scar on my eyebrow, in my belly,

in the sack of my scrotum, in my head, my hand, my arm
which he touched lightly, my mouth, my teeth, my tongue

which began to move, unlock, give up its wariness, give in
to say my name is Mark. What's yours?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Night Shed Its Blue Tears by Stefán Hörður Grímsson

The Night Shed Its Blue Tears

The night shed its blue tears
on grass and woods

and the earth grew cool and deep
beneath my feet
and I felt for a moment
as if a pallor struck my breast
and my bones were rotting
and I was seized by fear.

Then I thought I heard a low whisper like that of a closing flower:
You are a spring a thousand years ago.

Ars Poetica? by Czesław Miłosz

Ars Poetica?

I have always aspired to a more spacious form   
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose   
and would let us understand each other without exposing   
the author or reader to sublime agonies.   

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:   
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us,   
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out   
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.   

That’s why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,   
though it’s an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.   
It’s hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,   
when so often they’re put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.   

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,   
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,   
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,   
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?   

It’s true that what is morbid is highly valued today,   
and so you may think that I am only joking   
or that I’ve devised just one more means   
of praising Art with the help of irony.   

There was a time when only wise books were read,   
helping us to bear our pain and misery.   
This, after all, is not quite the same   
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.   

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be   
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity,   
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.   

The purpose of poetry is to remind us   
how difficult it is to remain just one person,   
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,   
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,   
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,   
under unbearable duress and only with the hope   
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

(Translated by Czesław Miłosz and Lillian Vallee)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sight by W. S. Merwin


a single cell 
found that it was full of light 
and for the first time there was seeing 

I was a bird 
I could see where the stars had turned 
and I set out on my journey 

in the head of a mountain goat 
I could see across a valley 
under the shining trees something moving 

in the green sea 
I saw two sides of the water 
and swam between them 

look at you 
in the first light of the morning 
for as long as I can