Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Last Words of My English Grandmother by William Carlos Williams

The Last Words of My English Grandmother

There were some dirty plates
and a glass of milk
beside her on a small table
near the rank, disheveled bed—

Wrinkled and nearly blind
she lay and snored
rousing with anger in her tones
to cry for food,

Gimme something to eat—
They're starving me—
I'm all right I won't go
to the hospital. No, no, no

Give me something to eat
Let me take you
to the hospital, I said
and after you are well

you can do as you please.
She smiled, Yes
you do what you please first
then I can do what I please—

Oh, oh, oh! she cried
as the ambulance men lifted
her to the stretcher—
Is this what you call

making me comfortable?
By now her mind was clear—
Oh you think you're smart
you young people,

she said, but I'll tell you
you don't know anything.
Then we started.
On the way

we passed a long row
of elms. She looked at them 
awhile out of
the ambulance window and said,

What are all those
fuzzy-looking things out there?
Trees? Well, I'm tired 
of them and rolled her head away.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Darker Powers by Carl Phillips

The Darker Powers

Even if you’re right,
and there’s in fact a difference
between trouble unlooked-for, and
the kind of trouble we pursued,
ruthlessly, until at last
it was ours,
                    what will the difference
have been, finally? What I’ve
called the world continues
to pass for one, the room spins
same as ever, the bodies
inside it do, flightless, but
no less addicted to mastering—
to the dream of mastering—the very
boughs through which
they keep falling without
motion, almost,
that slowly, it seems they’ll fall
forever, my
                    pretty consorts, to whom
sometimes—out of pity,
not mercy, for
nothing tender
about it—I show the darker
powers I’ve hardly shown
to anyone: Feel the weight of them,
I say, before putting them back,
just behind my heart, where they blacken
and thrive.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Antebellum House Party by Terrance Hayes

Antebellum House Party

To make the servant in the corner unobjectionable
Furniture, we must first make her a bundle of tree parts
Axed and worked to confidence. Oak-jawed, birch-backed,

Cedar-skinned, a pillowy bosom for the boss infants,
A fine patterned cushion the boss can fall upon.
Furniture does not pine for a future wherein the boss

Plantation house will be ransacked by cavalries or Calvary.
A kitchen table can, in the throes of a yellow-fever outbreak,
Become a cooling board holding the boss wife’s body.

It can on ordinary days also be an ironing board holding
Boss garments in need of ironing. Tonight it is simply a place
For a white cup of coffee, a tin of white cream. Boss calls

For sugar and the furniture bears it sweetly. Let us fill the mouth
Of the boss with something stored in the pantry of a house
War, decency, nor bedevilled storms can wipe from the past.

Furniture’s presence should be little more than a warm feeling
In the den. The dog staring into the fireplace imagines each log
Is a bone that would taste like a spiritual wafer on his tongue.

Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours
In the manner of an ottoman whereupon the boss volume
Of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” can be placed.

Antebellum residents who possessed the most encyclopedic
Bookcases, luxurious armoires, and beds with ornate cotton
Canopies often threw the most photogenic dinner parties.

Long after they have burned to ash, the hound dog sits there
Mourning the succulent bones he believes the logs used to be.
Imagination is often the boss of memory. Let us imagine

Music is radiating through the fields as if music were reward
For suffering. A few of the birds Audubon drew are now extinct.
The Carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon, and Labrador duck

No longer nuisance the boss property. With so much
Furniture about, there are far fewer woods. Is furniture’s fate
As tragic as the fate of an axe, the part of a tree that helps

Bring down more upstanding trees? The best furniture
Can stand so quietly in a room that the room appears empty.
If it remains unbroken, it lives long enough to become antique.

A Day Like Any Other by Lisel Mueller

A Day Like Any Other

Such insignificance: a glance
at your record on the doctor's desk
or a letter not meant for you.
How could you have known? It's not true
that your life passes before you
in rapid motion, but your watch
suddenly ticks like an amplified heart,
the hands freezing against a white
that is a judgment. Otherwise nothing.
The face in the mirror is still yours.
Two men pass on the sidewalk
and do not stare at your window.
Your room is silent, the plants
locked inside their mysterious lives
as always. The queen-of-the-night
refuses to bloom, does not
accept your definition. It makes no sense,
your scanning the street for a traffic snarl,
a new crack in the pavement,
a flag at half-mast -- signs
of some disturbance in the world
because your friend, the morning sun,
has turned its dark side toward you.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Short History of the Apple by Dorianne Laux

A Short History of the Apple

  The crunch is the thing, a certain joy in crashing through
  living tissue, a memory of Neanderthal days.   
   —Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert, 1929  

Teeth at the skin. Anticipation.
Then flesh. Grain on the tongue.
Eve’s knees ground in the dirt
of paradise. Newton watching
gravity happen. The history
of apples in each starry core,
every papery chamber’s bright
bitter seed. Woody stem
an infant tree. William Tell
and his lucky arrow. Orchards
of the Fertile Crescent. Bushels.
Fire blight. Scab and powdery mildew.
Cedar apple rust. The apple endures.
Born of the wild rose, of crab ancestors.
The first pip raised in Kazakhstan.
Snow White with poison on her lips.
The buried blades of Halloween.
Budding and grafting. John Chapman
in his tin pot hat. Oh Westward
Expansion. Apple pie. American
as. Hard cider. Winter banana.
Melt-in-the-mouth made sweet
by hives of Britain’s honeybees:
white man’s flies. O eat. O eat.


Friday, September 25, 2015

The Journey Of The Magi by T. S. Eliot

The Journey Of The Magi

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Epilogue by Denise Levertov


I thought I had found a swan
but it was a migrating snow-goose.

I thought I was linked invisibly to another’s life
but I found myself more alone with him than without him.

I thought I had found a fire
but it was the play of light on bright stones.

I thought I was wounded to the core
but I was only bruised.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Privacy of Typewriters by Les Murray

The Privacy of Typewriters

I am an old book troglodyte
one who composes on paper
and types up the result
as many times as need be.

The computer scares me,
its crashes and codes,
its links with spies and gunshot,
its text that looks pre-published

and perhaps has been.
I don’t know who is reading
what I write on a carriage
that doesn’t move or ding.

I trust the spoor of botch,
whiteouts where thought deepened,
wise freedom from Spell Check,
sheets to sell the National Library.

I fear the lore
of that baleful misstruck key
that fills a whiskered screen
with a writhe of child pornography

and the doors smashing in
and the cops handcuffing me
to a gristlier video culture
coralline in an ever colder sea. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Self-portrait with Rembrandt Self-portrait by C. K. Williams

Self-portrait with Rembrandt Self-portrait

I put my face inches from his
and look into his eyes
which look back,
but whatever it is
so much beyond suffering
I long towards in his gaze
and imagine inhabiting mine
eludes me. 

I put my face inches from his
face palette-knifed nearly raw,
scraped down to whatever it is
that denies flesh yet is flesh
but whatever it is
which still so exalts flesh,
even flesh scraped nearly raw,
eludes me. 

My face inches from his
face neither frowning
nor smiling nor susceptible 
any longer to any expression
but this watch, this regard;
whatever it is
I might keep of any of that
eludes me. 

My face inches from his,
his inches from mine,
whatever it is beyond
dying and fear of dying,
whatever it is beyond solace
which remains solace
eludes me,
yet no longer eludes me.

Allowances by John Freeman


I gave myself excuses.
This is for my pain—
and this, and this.
Terrible things.
Pain. My pain.
All so I might
twice a month
get on a train
to witness yours.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Happiness by Raymond Carver


So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They have on caps and sweaters,
and the one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs palely over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love
doesn’t enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Body & Kentucky Bourbon by Saeed Jones

Body & Kentucky Bourbon

In the dark, my mind’s night, I go back
to your work-calloused hands, your body

and the memory of fields I no longer see.
Cheek wad of chew tobacco,

Skoal-tin ring in the back pocket
of threadbare jeans, knees

worn through entirely. How to name you:
farmhand, Kentucky boy, lover.

The one who taught me to bear
the back-throat burn of bourbon.

Straight, no chaser, a joke in our bed,
but I stopped laughing; all those empty bottles,

kitchen counters covered with beer cans
and broken glasses. To realize you drank

so you could face me the morning after,
the only way to choke down rage at the body

sleeping beside you. What did I know
of your father’s backhand or the pine casket

he threatened to put you in? Only now,
miles and years away, do I wince at the jokes:

white trash, farmer’s tan, good ole boy.
And now, alone, I see your face

at the bottom of my shot glass
before my own comes through.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Small Country by Ellen Bass

The Small Country

Unique, I think, is the Scottish tartle, that hesitation
when introducing someone whose name you’ve forgotten.

And what could capture cafuné, the Brazilian Portuguese way to say
running your fingers, tenderly, through someone’s hair?

Is there a term in any tongue for choosing to be happy?

And where is speech for the block of ice we pack in the sawdust of our hearts?

What appellation approaches the smell of apricots thickening the air
when you boil jam in early summer?

What words reach the way I touched you last night—
as though I had never known a woman—an explorer,
wholly curious to discover each particular
fold and hollow, without guide,
not even the mirror of my own body.

Last night you told me you liked my eyebrows.
You said you never really noticed them before.
What is the word that fuses this freshness
with the pity of having missed it?

And how even touch itself cannot mean the same to both of us,
even in this small country of our bed,
even in this language with only two native speakers.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Odd Jobs by Jericho Brown

Odd Jobs

I spent what light Saturday sent sweating
And learned to cuss cutting grass for women
Kind enough to say they couldn’t tell the damned
Difference between their mowed lawns
And their vacuumed carpets just before
Handing over a five-dollar bill rolled tighter
Than a joint and asking me in to change
A few light bulbs. I called those women old
Because they wouldn’t move out of a chair
Without my help or walk without a hand
At the base of their backs. I called them
Old, and they must have been; they’re all dead
Now, dead and in the earth I once tended.
The loneliest people have the earth to love
And not one friend their own age—only
Mothers to baby them and big sisters to boss
Them around, women they want to please
And pray for the chance to say please to.
I don’t do that kind of work anymore. My job
Is to look at the childhood I hated and say
I once had something to do with my hands.


Monday, September 14, 2015

A Wreath of Hummingbirds by Cathy Park Hong

A Wreath of Hummingbirds

I suffer a different kind of loneliness.
In the trilling ringtones of singing
wrens, cries of babies and ballad medleys,
my ears, already inured by buds,
turn to brass.
They resurrected a thousand extinct birds,
Emus, dodos, and shelducks, though some,
like the cerulean glaucous macaw,
could not survive the snow. How heavily
they roost on trees in raw twilight.
I will not admire those birds,
not when my dull head throbs, and I am plagued
by sorrow, a green hummingbird that eats me alive
with its stinging needle beak.
Then I meet you. Our courtship is fierce
in a prudish city that scorns our love,
as if the ancient laws of miscegenation
are still in place. I am afraid
I will infect you
after a virus clogs the gift economy:
booming etrade of flintlock guns sag.
Status updates flip from we are all
connected to we are exiles.
What bullshit
when in that same prudish city,
they have one exact word to describe the buried
shades of their sorrow, when they always sit together
and eat noodles during white
days of rain, always in one long table,
though not all
as a boy, my father used to trap
little brown sparrows, bury them in hot coal,
and slowly eat the charred birds alone
in the green fields, no sounds,
no brothers in sight.
Holiest are those who eat alone.
Do not hurt them, do not push them, insult them,
do not even stare at them, leave
them to eat alone, in peace. 

The Man in the Chair by Galway Kinnell

The Man in the Chair

I glanced in as I walked past
the door of the room where he sat
in the easy chair with the soiled area
along the top from the olive oil.
I think I noticed something—
a rigidity in the torso, making it
unable to settle into the cushions,
or a slackness in the neck,
causing the head to tilt forward,
or a shaking in the lifted left fist,
as though he were pushing a hammer
handle back with all his force, to pull
a spike driven nineteen years before
the end of the nineteenth century
into lignum vitae so dense the steel
may have cried out in excruciated singsong,
or an acute angle in the knees,
as if he were holding his feet inches off
the floor to keep them from a whitish
wash of mist from some freshly
dug pit simmering across it,
or the jerk of a leg, as if a hand
just then had reached up through the floor
and tried to grab it. I think I noticed,
yet I did not stop, or go in, or speak.
For his part he could not have spoken,
that day, or any day, he had a human
version of the pip, the disease that thickens
birds’ vocal cords and throttles their song.
I had it too, no doubt caught from him,
and I could not speak truly except
to the beings I had invented far within.
I walked past, into my room, shut
the door, and sat down at the desk,
site of so many hours lost
passing one number through another
and drawing a little row of survivors on top.
while my mother sat across from me
catching my mistakes upside down.
I wrote, and as I did I allowed
to be audible in the room only
the scritches of the pen nib, a sound
like a rat nosing around in the dark
interior of a wall, making a nest of shreds.
All other sounds, including the words
he never said to me, my cries to him
I did not make, I forced down
through the paper, the desk, the floor,
the surface of the earth, the roof
of that dismal region where they stood,
two or three of them, who had reached up
and had him by the foot, and were pulling hard.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Japanese Maple by Clive James

Japanese Maple

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort. 
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Happy Thought by Franz Wright

A Happy Thought

Assuming this is the last day of my life
(which might mean it is almost the first)
I'm struck blind but my blindness is bright.

Prepare for what's known here as death;
have no fear of that strange word forever.
Even I can see there's nothing there

to be afraid of: having already been
to forever I'm unable to recall
anything that scared me, there, or hurt.

What frightened me, apparently, and hurt
was being born. But I got over that
with no hard feelings. Dying, I imagine,

it will be the same deal, lonesomer maybe,
but surely no more shocking or prolonged-
It's dark as I recall, then bright, so bright.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Day by Mary Ruefle

The Day

Describe the day when you first knew
that you were Real.
Ok, then describe the day
when you first had the sensation
life was but a Dream.
Well then, the day little Donald
took your jar of buttons
and you wept under the aspens
who did not seem to care one way or another
which made you madder than a hornet
and when Mrs. Felton saw you
stinging yourself, she invited you in
and gave you a glass of milk
and a piece of pie. What Kindness.
What kind of pie?
Did its purple eyes tell you then
what you know now?

Still-Life With Turkey by Diane Seuss

Still-Life With Turkey

The turkey’s strung up by one pronged foot,
the cord binding it just below the stiff trinity
of toes, each with its cold bent claw. My eyes

are in love with it as they are in love with all
dead things which cannot escape being looked at.
It is there to be seen if I want to see it, as my

father was there in his black casket and could not
elude our gaze. I was a child, so they asked
if I wanted to see him. “Do you want to see him?”

someone asked. Was it my mother? Grandmother?
Some poor woman was stuck with the job.
“He doesn’t look like himself,” whoever it was

added. “They did something strange with his mouth.”
As I write this a large moth flutters against
the window. It presses its fat thorax to the glass.

“No,” I said, “I don’t want to see him.” I don’t recall
if I secretly wanted them to open the box for me
but thought that “no” was the correct response,

or if I believed I should want to see him but was
too afraid of what they’d done with his mouth.
I think I assumed that my seeing him would

make things worse for my mother, and she was all
I had. Now I can’t get enough of seeing, as if I’m paying
a sort of penance for not seeing then, and so

this turkey, hanged, its small, raw-looking head,
which reminds me of the first fully naked man
I ever saw, when I was a candy striper

at a sort of nursing home, a war veteran,
young, burbling crazily, his face and body red
as something scalded. I didn’t want to see,

and yet I saw. But the turkey, I am in love with it,
its saggy neck folds, the rippling, variegated
feathers, the crook of its unbound foot,

and the glorious wings, archangelic, spread
as if it could take flight, but down,
downward, into the earth.