Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Moment by Marie Howe

The Moment

Oh, the coming-out-of-nowhere moment 
when,   nothing  
no what-have-I-to-do-today-list   

maybe   half a moment   
the rush of traffic stops.   
The whir of I should be, I should be, I should be  
slows to silence, 
the white cotton curtains hanging still.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Scintilla, Star by Jameson Fitzpatrick

Scintilla, Star

In the old place, there was no place
that did not see me.
Wherever I went mothers whispered
about me like a Greek chorus:
I heard that boy    ...    I heard that.
I was just a boy. But it was
true, what they said, that I liked
other boys, that I had stolen Sarah’s,
though he was four years older
and they were very much in love.
I made him break up with her
in a Chili’s parking lot
while I waited inside. I was
fourteen. How embarrassing
to have been fourteen, to have eaten
at that Chili’s, often. That summer
I had no taste for anything
but him. Faintly of chlorine.
When he left for college
I had no one. Sarah’s friends
stared me down at school.
I found it was better,
if I could not be no one,
to be someone. Small, but
particular. Specified, which was
an apprenticeship for special.
Cold, another word for cool.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Three Women by Dunya Mikhail

Three Women

Another night on the way to the cages
and the stars—dead eggs glistening—
don’t know the secret of the stone.

For ten years the stone was left
in the basement with the three
kidnapped women inside it.

Their souls broke the door and escaped.
Their bodies lagged a few steps behind.
They will never look back.

If they do, they will find their feathers
scattered everywhere, and a bell
with no ring, and three shadows

trapped inside a stone.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Remembering My Father by Zbigniew Herbert

Remembering My Father

His face severe in clouds above the waters of childhood
so rarely did he hold my warm head in his hands
given to belief not forgiving faults
because he cleared our woods and straightened paths
he carried the lantern high when we entered the night

I thought I would sit at his right hand
and we would separate light from darkness
and judge those of us who live
—it happened otherwise

A junk dealer carried his throne on a hand-cart
and the deed of ownership the map of our kingdom

he was born a second time slight very fragile
with transparent skin hardly perceptible cartilage
he diminished his body so I might receive it

in an unimportant place there is shadow under a stone 

he himself grows in me we eat our defeats
we burst out laughing
when they say how little is needed
to be reconciled

(Translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Maybe All This by Wisława Szymborska

Maybe All This

Maybe all this
is happening in some lab?
Under one lamp by day
and billions by night?

Maybe we’re experimental generations?
Poured from one vial to the next,
shaken in test tubes,
not scrutinized by eyes alone,
each of us separately
plucked up by tweezers in the end?

Or maybe it’s more like this:
No interference?
The changes occur on their own
according to plan?
The graph’s needle slowly etches
its predictable zigzags?

Maybe thus far we aren’t of much interest?
The control monitors aren’t usually plugged in?
Only for wars, preferably large ones,
for the odd ascent above our clump of Earth,
for major migrations from point A to B?

Maybe just the opposite:
They’ve got a taste for trivia up there?
Look! on the big screen a little girl
is sewing a button on her sleeve.
The radar shrieks,
the staff comes at a run.
What a darling little being
with its tiny heart beating inside it!

How sweet, its solemn
threading of the needle!
Someone cries enraptured:
Get the Boss,
tell him he’s got to see this for himself!

(Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak)

Three Words by Li-Young Lee

Three Words

God-My-Father gave me three words:

God-My-Mother’s wounds will never heal.

God-My-Brother is always alone in the library.

Meanwhile, I can’t remember
how many brothers I have.

God-My-Sister, combing the knots out of my hair,
says that’s because
so many brothers died before I learned to count,
and the ones who died after I acquired arithmetic
so exceeded the number of brothers still alive.

God-My-Father gave me three words to live by.
O-My-Love.     O-My-God.     Holy-Holy-Holy.

Why won’t God-My-Mother’s wounds heal?
Wounding myself doesn’t cauterize her wounds.
Another wound to her won’t seal her open blooms.

Her voice is a flowering tree struck by lightning.
It goes on greening and flowering,
but come petal-fall, its blossoms dropping
thunder so loud I must cover my ears to hear her.

Meanwhile, God-My-Brother spends every afternoon
alone with the books God-My-Father writes.
Some days he looks up
from a page, wearing the very face of horror.
Ask him what’s the matter
and he’ll stare into your eyes and whisper, “Murder!”
He’ll howl, “Murder!” He’ll scream, “Murder!”
Until he’s hoarse or exhausted.
Or until God-My-Sister sits him down,
combs and braids his hair,
and sorts his dreams.

I’m counting out loud all of my brothers’ names,
the living and the dead, on my fingers.
But the list is long,
leading back to the beginning
of the building of the first human cities,
and I keep losing my place and starting over.
Once, I remembered them all
except the first pair.

God-My-Sister says I must never say those names, never
pronounce the names of that first pair of brothers
within earshot of God-My-Brother.

God-My-Father gave me only three words.
How will I ever learn to talk like other people?

God-My-Mother sings, and her voice
comes like winter to break open the seeds.

God-My-Brother spends most of his time alone.
God-My-Sister is the only one
he’ll ever let touch his face.

God-My-Sister, you should see her.
I have so many brothers,
but forever there will be
only one of her, God-My-Sister.

God-My-Father says from those three words
he gave me, all other words descend, branching.
That still leaves me unfit
for conversation, like some deranged bird
you can’t tell is crying in grief or exultation,
all day long repeating,
“O, my God.
O, my love.
Holy, holy, holy.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What Keeps by C. D. Wright

What Keeps

We live on a hillside
close to water
We eat in darkness
We sleep in the coldest
part of the house
We love in silence
We keep our poetry
locked in a glass cabinet
Some nights We stay up
passing it back and
between us
drinking deep

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Stutterer by Alan Dugan


Courage: your tongue has left 
its natural position in the cheek 
where eddies of the breath 
are navigable calms. Now 
it locks against the glottis or 
is snapped at by the teeth, 
in midstream: it must be work 
to get out what you mean: 
the rapids of the breath 
are furious with belief 
and want the tongue, as blood 
and animal of speech, 
to stop it, block it, or come clean 
over the rocks of teeth 
and down the races of the air, 
tumbled and bruised to death. 
Relax it into acting, be 
the air’s straw-hat 
canoeist with a mandolin 
yodeling over the falls. 
This is the sound advice 
of experts and a true despair: 
it is the toll to pass the locks 
down to the old mill stream 
where lies of love are fair.  

Monday, March 23, 2020

Readings in French by Larry Levis

Readings in French


Looking into the eyes of Gerard de Nerval
You notice the giant sea crabs rising.
Which is what happens
When you look into the eyes of Gerard de Nerval,
Always the same thing: the giant sea crabs,
The claws in their vague red holsters
Moving around, a little doubtfully.


But looking into the eyes of Pierre Reverdy
Is like throwing the editorial page
Out into the rain
And then riding alone on the subway.

Also, it is like avoiding your father.
You are hiding and he looks for you
Under each vine; he is coming nearer
And nearer.
What can you do
But ignore him?


In either case, soon you are riding alone on a subway.
Which is not important.
What is important is to avoid
Looking too closely into the eyes of your father,
That formal eclipse.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Realism by Beth Bachmann


God said, your name is mud
and the thing about mud is you
got to throw it down
to remove the air
and sometimes cut it
and rejoin it with another part.
If stars are made of dust,
it’s not the same stuff,
God said;
you can’t make a hut out of it,
only heaven,
and when I said dust to dust, that’s not what I meant.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Poets Are Dying by Brenda Shaughnessy

The Poets Are Dying

It seems impossible
they seemed immortal.

Where are they going
if not to their next poems?

Poems that, like lives, make do
and make that doing do more—

holding a jolt like a newborn,
a volta turning toward a god-load

of grief dumped from some heaven
where words rain down

and the poet is soaked. Cold
to the bone, we’ve become. Thick-

headed, death-bedded, heartsick.
Poets. Flowers picked, candles wicked,

forgiving everyone they tricked.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The World by Czesław Miłosz

The World

It appears that it was all a misunderstanding.
What was only a trial run was taken seriously.
The rivers will return to their beginnings.
The wind will cease in its turning about.
Trees instead of budding will tend to their roots.
Old men will chase a ball, a glance in the mirror–
They are children again.
The dead will wake up, not comprehending.
Till everything that happened has unhappened.
What a relief! Breathe freely, you who have suffered much.  

(Translated by Czesław Miłosz and Robert Haas)

You Want a Social Life, with Friends by Kenneth Koch

You Want a Social Life, with Friends

You want a social life, with friends.
A passionate love life and as well
To work hard every day. What’s true
Is of these three you may have two
And two can pay you dividends
But never may have three.

There isn’t time enough, my friends–
Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends–
To find the time to have love, work, and friends.
Michelangelo had feeling
For Vittoria and the Ceiling
But did he go to parties at day’s end?

Homer nightly went to banquets
Wrote all day but had no lockets
Bright with pictures of his Girl.
I know one who loves and parties
And has done so since his thirties
But writes hardly anything at all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Cento Between the Ending and the End by Cameron Awkward-Rich

Cento Between the Ending and the End

Sometimes you don’t die
when you’re supposed to
& now I have a choice
repair a world or build
a new one inside my body
a white door opens
into a place queerly brimming
gold light so velvet-gold
it is like the world
hasn’t happened
when I call out
all my friends are there
everyone we love
is still alive gathered
at the lakeside
like constellations
my honeyed kin
honeyed light
beneath the sky
a garden blue stalks
white buds the moon’s
marble glow the fire
distant & flickering
the body whole bright-
winged brimming
with the hours
of the day beautiful
nameless planet. Oh
friends, my friends—
bloom how you must, wild
until we are free.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
the darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Monday, March 16, 2020

[All night I hear the noise of water sobbing.] by Alejandra Pizarnik

[All night I hear the noise of water sobbing.]
All night I hear the noise of water sobbing. All night I make night in me, I make the day that begins on my account, that sobs because day falls like water through night.
         All night I hear the voice of someone seeking me out. All night you abandon me slowly like the water that sobs slowly falling. All night I write luminous messages, messages of rain, all night someone checks for me and I check for someone.
         The noise of steps in the circle near this choleric light birthed from my insomnia. Steps of someone who no longer writhes, who no longer writes. All night someone holds back, then crosses the circle of bitter light.
         All night I drown in your eyes become my eyes. All night I prod myself on toward that squatter in the circle of my silence. All night I see something lurch toward my looking, something humid, contrived of silence launching the sound of someone sobbing.
         Absence blows grayly and night goes dense. Night, the shade of the eyelids of the dead, viscous night, exhaling some black oil that blows me forward and prompts me to search out an empty space without warmth, without cold. All night I flee from someone. I lead the chase, I lead the fugue. I sing a song of mourning. Black birds over black shrouds. My brain cries. Demented wind. I leave the tense and strained hand, I don’t want to know anything but this perpetual wailing, this clatter in the night, this delay, this infamy, this pursuit, this inexistence.
         All night I see that abandonment is me, that the sole sobbing voice is me. We can search with lanterns, cross the shadow’s lie. We can feel the heart thud in the thigh and water subside in the archaic site of the heart.
         All night I ask you why. All night you tell me no.

(Translated by Patricio Ferrari and Forrest Gander) 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Worst Things First by Mark Bibbins

Worst Things First

A bag of thank-you notes fell
on me and that was enough
art for one day. Culturally speaking,
it was more like a year
in the floral trenches, kicked off
with a single boneless kiss.
Poor sad demon in his poor dead tree—
or is it he who pities me, cockshy
quasihero with a latex lasso,
taking forever to measure

the dimensions of his confinement.
Some other demons have smeared a flock
of sparrows on a blanket, the full filthy
price of a sky under which they smoked
their names. My prize is a set
of teeth, striptease at the nude beach,
audio files of decomposing stars
telling me, if they’re telling me
anything, that theory’s just another word
for nothing left to like.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Sanctuary by Jean Valentine


People pray to each other. The way I say "you" to someone else,
respectfully, intimately, desperately. The way someone says
"you" to me, hopefully, expectantly, intensely ...
—Huub Oosterhuis

You       who I don’t know       I don’t know how to talk to you   

—What is it like for you there?

Here ... well, wanting solitude; and talk; friendship—
The uses of solitude. To imagine; to hear.
Learning braille. To imagine other solitudes.
But they will not be mine;
to wait, in the quiet; not to scatter the voices—

What are you afraid of?

What will happen. All this leaving. And meetings, yes. But death.   
What happens when you die?

“... not scatter the voices,”

Drown out. Not make a house, out of my own words. To be quiet in   
another throat; other eyes; listen for what it is like there. What   
word. What silence. Allowing. Uncertain: to drift, in the
restlessness ... Repose. To run like water—

What is it like there, right now?

Listen: the crowding of the street; the room. Everyone hunches in   
against the crowding; holding their breath: against dread.

What do you dread?

What happens when you die?

What do you dread, in this room, now?

Not listening. Now. Not watching. Safe inside my own skin.
To die, not having listened. Not having asked ... To have scattered   

Yes I know: the thread you have to keep finding, over again, to   
follow it back to life; I know. Impossible, sometimes.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Autumn Song by W. H. Auden

Autumn Song

Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse's flowers will not last;
Nurses to the graves are gone,
And the prams go rolling on.

Whispering neighbours, left and right,
Pluck us from the real delight;
And the active hands must freeze
Lonely on the separate knees.

Dead in hundreds at the back
Follow wooden in our track,
Arms raised stiffly to reprove
In false attitudes of love.

Starving through the leafless wood
Trolls run scolding for their food;
And the nightingale is dumb,
And the angel will not come.

Cold, impossible, ahead
Lifts the mountain's lovely head
Whose white waterfall could bless
Travellers in their last distress.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Written Deer by Maggie Smith

Written Deer

           Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
                            —Wisława Szymborska 

My handwriting is all over these woods. 
No, my handwriting is these woods,  

each tree a half-print, half-cursive scrawl, 
each loop a limb. My house is somewhere 
here, & I have scribbled myself inside it.  

What is home but a book we write, then 
read again & again, each time dog-earing  

different pages. In the morning I wake 
in time to pencil the sun high. How 
fragile it is, the world—I almost wrote  

the word but caught myself. Either one 
could be erased. In these written woods,  

branches smudge around me whenever 
I take a deep breath. Still, written fawns 
lie in the written sunlight that dapples  

their backs. What is home but a passage
I’m writing & underlining every time I read it.