Monday, August 31, 2015

Picture of the Author with Vice President by William Wenthe

Picture of the Author with Vice President

That’s me on his left. If neither one of us 
looks comfortable, it’s because I said 
I’m sorry to hear about his heart. 
A small machine, he says, sends tiny sparks 
in there, to pace the flow of blood. 
Some people will dispute this photo; his office 
has denied it’s me; but I have to believe 
I am in the picture. It’s awkward, yes, 
for we don’t know each other; 
and if he’s known as a man who keeps 
public secrets, I’m not known at all. 
Even so, he and I share something 
that we cherish, deeply, which is our love

of trout. On his Wyoming ranch, he owns 
a trout stream for himself. When I raise 
the question—How’s the fishing?—he will rise 
to the subject, and we will have grown 
a little closer, having now disclosed 
a passion no one, having known, lets go. 
And he, too, is a man who knows cold blood 
of trout cares nothing for who you are. 
Nor do they care who owns the land 
their water flows within: So long 
as land and stream stay clean, they live. 
Because I must rely on public lands 
to find—weighed out in the flash 
of a trout’s brilliant scales—that cleanly order, 
I’m concerned about his sympathy 
with those who call such places “undeveloped.”

But I know better than to say as much 
to a man who’s so well versed 
in the rhyming of ecology with economy— 
abstract nets that hold so many tangibles, 
such as meadow grass that filters silt 
so cutthroat trout may have clean beds 
of gravel for their spawning redds; 
or the English teacher whose hopes 
for a pay raise float on the promise 
of a growing tax base—in other words, 
the new sport coat I’m wearing 
in the photo, bought for this occasion. 
Still, I want to believe in the heart 
of a man who would fish a barbless fly 
for a trout, and let it go; who would spend 
that much time to be where trout live, to step 
so softly in their stream, they do not frighten.

So I am going to tell him a story 
about the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico, 
and a man who lived there. By all accounts, 
William Myers knew the land, but owned 
none of it. Had no money, so in order to live 
in the mountains, he bartered work 
for the privilege of staying in 
other people’s second homes. 
One day, he drove his ATV up a ridge 
to scout the most likely route to run a pipe 
to his friend’s house. He lit a cigarette, 
studied the forest floor, as he’d often done 
for fresh deer lies, bear scat, a crop of mast 
that might draw wild turkeys in. 
Whether it was a spark from the ATV 
or the cigarette, he didn’t know; but he was sure, 
he told police, that it was he who caused the fire. 
That night, a glowing orange blemish on the sky; 
by next day, a dry mist with a taste 
of wet paper. Nine thousand acres 
of forest he had hunted, ponds and creeks 
he’d fished—the bell-note of hummingbird wings, 
the raccoon crooning to her pups—gone up 
in a surf of flame; sap-laden pines burst 
like the improvised gas-and-bottle bombs 
he’d learned to make in the army. Helicopters 
dropped fire-retardant chemicals on a woods 
he’d loved but never owned, and never meant

to burn. They fell in scarlet plumes, like blood 
that must have sprayed from his skull 
when he stood in front of the gun 
he held in his own hand, and fired. 
—Well, it may have been the words 
like blood, and skull, and gun
that made the men in sunglasses bring 
our conversation to a polite, efficient end. 
Or it could have been my agitation 
over a man who took responsibility— 
who, as his scribbled farewell letter read, 
could never live with what he had destroyed.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

If my Enemy is a Clown, a Natural Born Clown by Ishmael Reed

If my Enemy is a Clown, a Natural Born Clown

i tore down my thoughts
roped in my nightmares
remembered a thousand curses
made blasphemous vows to demons
choked on the blood of hosts
    ate my hat
threw fits in the street
got up bitchy each day
told off the mailman
lost many friends
left parties in a huff
dry fucked a dozen juke boxes
made anarchist speeches in brad
the falcon’s 55 (but was never
thrown out)
drank 10 martinis a minute
until 1 day the book was finished

my unspeakable terror between the
covers, on you i said to the
enemies of the souls

well lorca, pushkin i tried
but in this place they assassinate
you with pussy or pats on
the back, lemon chiffon between
the cheeks or 2 weeks on a mile
long beach.

i have been the only negro
on the plane 10 times this year
and its only the 2nd month

i am removing my blindfold and
leaving the dock. the judge
giggles constantly and the prosecutor
invited me to dinner

no forwarding address please

i called it pin the tail on the devil
they called it avant garde
they just can't be serious
these big turkeys

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Precision of Pain by Yehuda Amichai

The Precision of Pain

The precision of pain and the blurriness of joy. I'm thinking 
how precise people are when they describe their pain in a doctor's office.
Even those who haven't learned to read and write are precise:
"This one's a throbbing pain, that one's a wrenching pain,
this one gnaws, that one burns, this is a sharp pain
and that––a dull one. Right here. Precisely here,
yes, yes." Joy blurs everything. I've heard people say
after nights of love and feasting, "It was great,
I was in seventh heaven." Even the spaceman who floated
in outer space, tethered to a spaceship, could say only, "Great,
wonderful, I have no words."
The blurriness of joy and the precision of pain — 
I want to describe, with a sharp pain's precision, happiness
and blurry joy. I learned to speak among the pains.

(Translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld)

The Orange-and-White High-Heeled Shoes by Ellen Bass

The Orange-and-White High-Heeled Shoes

Today I’m thinking about those shoes—white
with a tangerine stripe across the toe and forceful orange heels—

that fit both my mother and me. We used to shop like that—
trying them on side by side. That was when there still

was a man who would cradle your heel in his palm
and guide your foot. Sometimes he would think he made a sale,

only to have one of us turn to the other—
and he would have to kneel again, hoping to ease another naked sole

into the bed of suède or leather. I thought those shoes
were just the peak of chic. And—my God—

you bought me a pair of orange cotton gloves to complete the ensemble.
Why is there such keen pleasure in remembering?

You are dead ten years. And these showy slippers—
we wore them more than half a century ago. The first boy

had not yet misted my breasts with his breath
and you were strong as a muscled goddess, gliding nylons

over your calves, lifting your amplitude into a breastplate.
Who will remember these pumpkin-colored pumps

when I die, too? Who will remember how we slid into them
like girls diving into a cedar-tinged lake, like bees

entering the trumpet of a flower, like birds disappearing
into the green, green leaves of summer?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Grief by Raymond Carver


Woke up early this morning and from my bed
looked far across the Strait to see
a small boat moving through the choppy water,
a single running light on. Remembered
my friend who used to shout
his dead wife’s name from hilltops
around Perugia. Who set a plate
for her at his simple table long after
she was gone. And opened the windows
so she could have fresh air. Such display
I found embarrassing. So did his other
friends. I couldn’t see it.
Not until this morning.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Citizen: An American Lyric (excerpt) by Claudia Rankine

Citizen: An American Lyric (excerpt)

You and your partner go to see the film The House We Live In. You ask a friend to pick up your child from school. On your way home your phone rings. Your neighbor tells you he is standing at his window watching a menacing black guy casing both your homes. The guy is walking back and forth talking to himself and seems disturbed.

You tell your neighbor that your friend, whom he has met, is babysitting. He says, no, it’s not him. He’s met your friend and this isn’t that nice young man. Anyway, he wants you to know, he’s called the police.

Your partner calls your friend and asks him if there’s a guy walking back and forth in front of your home. Your friend said that if anyone were outside he would see him because he is standing outside. You hear the sirens through the speakerphone.

Your friend is speaking to your neighbor when you arrive home. The four police cars are gone. Your neighbor has apologized to your friend and is now apologizing to you. Feeling somewhat responsible for the actions of your neighbor, you clumsily tell your friend that the next time he wants to talk on the phone he should just go in the backyard. He looks at you a long minute before saying he can speak on the phone wherever he wants. Yes, of course, you say. Yes, of course.

From a Childhood by Rainer Maria Rilke

From a Childhood

The darkening was like treasures in the room
in which the boy, so deeply hidden, sat.
And when as in a dream his mother entered,
a glass shook on the silent shelf.
She felt how the room was giving her away,
and kissed her boy: So, you’re here?…
Then both gazed fearfully toward the piano,
for many an evening she would play a song
in which the child got strangely, deeply caught.

He sat stock-still. His wide gaze hung
on her hand, which, weighed down by the ring,
as if it were walking in deep snow,
wandered across the white keys.

(Translated by Edward Snow)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Piano by Patrick Phillips


Touched by your goodness, I am like   
that grand piano we found one night on Willoughby   
that someone had smashed and somehow   
heaved through an open window.   

And you might think by this I mean I’m broken   
or abandoned, or unloved.   Truth is, I don’t   
know exactly what I am, any more   
than the wreckage in the alley knows   
it’s a piano, filling with trash and yellow leaves.   

Maybe I’m all that’s left of what I was.   
But touching me, I know, you are the good   
breeze blowing across its rusted strings.   

What would you call that feeling when the wood,   
even with its cracked harp, starts to sing?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Radiant Ivory by Henri Cole

Radiant Ivory

After the death of my father, I locked
myself in my room, bored and animal-like.
The travel clock, the Johnnie Walker bottle,
the parrot tulips—everything possessed his face,
chaste and obscure. Snow and rain battered the air
white, insane, slathery. Nothing poured
out of me except sensibility, dilated.
It was as if I were sub-born—preverbal,
truculent, pure—with hard ivory arms
reaching out into a dark and crowded space,
illuminated like a perforated silver box
or a little room in which glowing cigarettes
came and went, like souls losing magnitude,
but none with the battered hand I knew.

Spring Azures by Mary Oliver

Spring Azures

In spring the blue azures bow down
at the edges of shallow puddles
to drink the black rain water.
Then they rise and float away into the fields.

Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy,
and all the tricks my body knows—
the opposable thumbs, the kneecaps,
and the mind clicking and clicking—

don’t seem enough to carry me through this world
and I think: how I would like

to have wings—
blue ones—
ribbons of flame.

How I would like to open them, and rise
from the black rain water.

And then I think of Blake, in the dirt and sweat of London—a boy
staring through the window, when God came
fluttering up.

Of course, he screamed,
seeing the bobbin of God’s blue body
leaning on the sill,
and the thousand-faceted eyes.

Well, who knows.
Who knows what hung, fluttering, at the window
between him and the darkness.

Anyway, Blake the hosier’s son stood up
and turned away from the sooty sill and the dark city—
turned away forever
from the factories, the personal strivings,

to a life of the imagination.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Question by Chinua Achebe


Angled sunbeam lowered
like Jacob’s ladder through
sky’s peephole pierced in the roof
to my silent floor and bared feet.
Are these your creatures
these crowding specks
stomping your lighted corridor
to a remote sun, like doped
acrobatic angels gyrating
at needlepoint to divert a high
unamused god? Or am I
sole stranger in a twilight room
I called my own overrun
and possessed long ago by myriads more
as yet invisible in all
this surrounding penumbra?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Death Will Come and Will Have Your Eyes by Cesare Pavese

Death Will Come and Will Have Your Eyes

Death will come and will have your eyes—
this death that accompanies us
from morning till evening, unsleeping,
deaf, like an old remorse
or an absurd vice. Your eyes
will be a useless word,
a suppressed cry, a silence.
That’s what you see each morning
when alone with yourself you lean
toward the mirror. O precious hope,
that day we too will know
that you are life and you are nothingness.

Death has a look for everyone.
Death will come and will have your eyes.
It will be like renouncing a vice,
like seeing a dead face reappear in the mirror,
like listening to a lip that’s shut.
We’ll go down into the maelstrom mute.

(Translated by Geoffrey Brock)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What the Living Do by Marie Howe

What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there. 
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of. 
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living room windows because the heat’s on too high in here, and I can’t turn it off. 
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those 
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it. 
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want 
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss — we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass, 
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living, I remember you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

An Adventure by Louise Glück

An Adventure

It came to me one night as I was falling asleep
that I had finished with those amorous adventures
to which I had long been a slave. Finished with love?
my heart murmured. To which I responded that many profound discoveries
awaited us, hoping, at the same time, I would not be asked
to name them. For I could not name them. But the belief that they existed—
surely this counted for something?
The next night brought the same thought,
this time concerning poetry, and in the nights that followed
various other passions and sensations were, in the same way,
set aside forever, and each night my heart
protested its future, like a small child being deprived of a favorite toy.
But these farewells, I said, are the way of things.
And once more I alluded to the vast territory
opening to us with each valediction. And with that phrase I became
a glorious knight riding into the setting sun, and my heart
became the steed underneath me.
I was, you will understand, entering the kingdom of death,
though why this landscape was so conventional
I could not say. Here, too, the days were very long
while the years were very short. The sun sank over the far mountain.
The stars shone, the moon waxed and waned. Soon
faces from the past appeared to me:
my mother and father, my infant sister; they had not, it seemed,
finished what they had to say, though now
I could hear them because my heart was still.
At this point, I attained the precipice
but the trail did not, I saw, descend on the other side;
rather, having flattened out, it continued at this altitude
as far as the eye could see, though gradually
the mountain that supported it completely dissolved
so that I found myself riding steadily through the air—
All around, the dead were cheering me on,
the joy of finding them obliterated
by the task of responding to them—
As we had all been flesh together,
now we were mist.
As we had been before objects with shadows,
now we were substance without form, like evaporated chemicals.
Neigh, neigh, said my heart,
or perhaps nay, nay—it was hard to know.
Here the vision ended. I was in my bed, the morning sun
contentedly rising, the feather comforter
mounded in white drifts over my lower body.
You had been with me—
there was a dent in the second pillowcase.
We had escaped from death—
or was this the view from the precipice? 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Country Fair by Charles Simić

Country Fair

If you didn't see the six-legged dog,
It doesn't matter.
We did, and he mostly lay in the corner.
As for the extra legs,

One got used to them quickly
And thought of other things.
Like, what a cold, dark night
To be out at the fair.

Then the keeper threw a stick
And the dog went after it
On four legs, the other two flapping behind,
Which made one girl shriek with laughter.

She was drunk and so was the man
Who kept kissing her neck.
The dog got the stick and looked back at us.
And that was the whole show. 

Passing by Carl Phillips


When the Famous Black Poet speaks,
I understand

that his is the same unnervingly slow 
rambling method of getting from A to B
that I hated in my father,
my father who always told me
don't shuffle.

The Famous Black Poet is
speaking of the dark river in the mind
that runs thick with the heroes of color,
Jackie R., Bessie, Billie, Mr. Paige, anyone
who knew how to sing or when to run. 
I think of my grandmother, said
to have dropped dead from the evil eye,
of my lesbian aunt who saw cancer and
a generally difficult future headed her way
in the still water
of her brother's commode.
I think of voodoo in the bottoms of soup-cans,
and I want to tell the poet that the blues
is not my name, that Alabama
is something I cannot use
in my business.

He is so like my father,
I don't ask the Famous Black Poet,
to remove his shoes,
knowing the inexplicable black
and pink I will find there, a cut 
gone wrong in five places.
I don't ask him to remove
his pants, since that too
is known, what has never known
a blade, all the spaces between,
where we differ ...

I have spent years tugging
between my legs,
and proved nothing, really.
I wake to the sheets I kicked aside,
and examine where they've failed to mend
their own creases, resembling some silken
obstruction, something pulled
from my father's chest, a bad heart,
a lung,

the lung of the Famous Black Poet
saying nothing I want to understand. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Waiting by William Carlos Williams


When I am alone I am happy. 
The air is cool. The sky is
flecked and splashed and wound
with color. The crimson phalloi
of the sassafras leaves
hang crowded before me
in shoals on the heavy branches. 
When I reach my doorstep
I am greeted by
the happy shrieks of my children
and my heart sinks. 
I am crushed. 

Are not my children as dear to me
as falling leaves or
must one become stupid
to grow older? 
It seems much as if Sorrow
had tripped up my heels. 
Let us see, let us see! 
What did I plan to say to her
when it should happen to me
as it has happened now?