Thursday, April 30, 2020

That All, Everyone, Each in Being by Mai Der Vang

That All, Everyone, Each in Being

Decades I have waited                to make sunlight 
for all of this to                             matter, a mark built to 
rest and a mark laid                     living. I am sworn 
to my worth even                        when the scales weep 
their own little swords,               slanting outside 
the song and full                          of soothing to speak each 
vowel. Everything                        happens toward its own 
making, an infinite                       becoming from all that 
is yet to be faced.                        When it seemed 
as though I had touched             the arm of love, 
little did I know,                           I had found a door 
with which to                                enter the sky. And to         
the sky, little did I                         know, the door would 
open for me. All,                          as it will be, as it should be, 
in effort of                                     The Great Balance. 
Five days ago, I stood                  under a flight of egrets, 
shifting between fenced             field of mud and factory 
yard. What could                          they have guessed of stability, 
a fairness of wings, restoring      what had always been 
theirs to have.                               Like them, I have 
steeped myself with                     others, for so long my roots 
sprouting from the cloud            of this fight, daring to follow 
where the arrow leads,               until it is my turn. 
Until now,                                      my turn. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Written by Himself by Gregory Pardlo

Written by Himself

I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet
whispering my name. I was born to rainwater and lye;
I was born across the river where I
was borrowed with clothespins, a harrow tooth,
broadsides sewn in my shoes. I returned, though
it please you, through no fault of my own,
pockets filled with coffee grounds and eggshells.
I was born still and superstitious; I bore an unexpected burden.
I gave birth, I gave blessing, I gave rise to suspicion.
I was born abandoned outdoors in the heat-shaped air,
air drifting like spirits and old windows.
I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry;
I was an index of first lines when I was born.
I was born waist-deep stubborn in the water crying
                              ain’t I a woman and a brother I was born
to this hall of mirrors, this horror story I was
born with a prologue of references, pursued
by mosquitoes and thieves, I was born passing
off the problem of the twentieth century: I was born.
I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves;
I walked a piece of the way alone before I was born.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Holding Hands by Max Ritvo

Holding Hands

What if my tumors don’t like me?

What if they come up for air?

Dolphins are made of fire,
so they spend forever in water
trying to put themselves out.

I am made of death,
so here I am in life
trying to put myself out.

What would my body look like?—
ripples along the skin,
like baby hands that want
to reach through a rainbow parachute.

On the other side of the parachute
is a big blue ball.

It’s too big for babies to hold,
but the game is
they get to blame the parachute.

The hands are hard
to hold.

Small, slippery, I wonder
if they even know

that things of blood like us
use devices like these to love.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Eviction by Eavan Boland


Back from Dublin, my grandmother
finds an eviction notice on her door.
Now she is in court for rent arrears.
The lawyers are amused.
These are the Petty Sessions,
this is Drogheda, this is the Bank Holiday.
Their comments fill a column in the newspaper.
Was the notice well served?
Was it served at all?
Is she a weekly or a monthly tenant?
In which one of the plaintiffs’ rent books
is she registered?
The case comes to an end, is dismissed.
Leaving behind the autumn evening.
Leaving behind the room she entered.
Leaving behind the reason I have always
resisted history.
A woman leaves a courtroom in tears.
A nation is rising to the light.
History notes the second, not the first.
Nor does it know the answer as to why
on a winter evening
in a modern Ireland
I linger over the page of the Drogheda
Argus and Leinster Journal, 1904,
knowing as I do that my attention has
no agency, none at all. Nor my rage. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Interrogation of the Hanged Man by Monica Youn

Interrogation of the Hanged Man

What is your face?
          A house, of sorts.

What is your foot?
          A chipped stone blade.

What did you dream?
          A rain-washed road.

What did it mean?
          It meant nothing.

What have you learned?
          The sky forgives.

What does it forgive?
          Each jet its wake.

What do you want?
          A smile, of sorts.

No, what do you want?
          I want nothing.

What’s in your hand?
          A leafless twig.

No. Show me. What’s that in your hand?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Piano Lesson by Adam Zagajewski

Piano Lesson

                      I’m eight years old

Piano lesson at the neighbors’, Mr. and Mrs. J.
I’m in their apartment for the first time,
which smells different from ours (ours has no smell,
or so I think). Everywhere carpets,
thick Persian carpets. I know that they’re Armenians,
but don’t know what that means. Armenians have carpets,

dust wanders through the air, imported
from Lvov, medieval dust.
We don’t have carpets or Middle Ages.
We don’t know who we are—maybe wanderers.
Sometimes I think we don’t exist. Only others are.
The acoustics are great in our neighbors’ apartment.

It’s quiet in this apartment. A piano stands in the room
like a lazy, tamed predator—and in it,
at its very heart, dwells music’s black ball.
Mrs. J told me right after the first
or second lesson that I should take up languages
since I showed no talent for music.

I show no talent for music.
I should take up languages instead.
Music will always be elsewhere,
inaccessible, in someone else’s apartment.
The black ball will be hidden elsewhere,
but there may be other meetings, revelations.

I went home, hanging my head,
a little saddened, a little glad—home,
where there was no smell of Persia, only amateur paintings,
watercolors, and I thought with bitterness and pleasure
that I had only language, only words, images,
only the world.

(Translated by Clare Cavanagh)

The Harvest Bow by Seamus Heaney

The Harvest Bow

As you plaited the harvest bow
You implicated the mellowed silence in you
In wheat that does not rust
But brightens as it tightens twist by twist
Into a knowable corona,
A throwaway love-knot of straw.

Hands that aged round ashplants and cane sticks
And lapped the spurs on a lifetime of game cocks
Harked to their gift and worked with fine intent
Until your fingers moved somnambulant:
I tell and finger it like braille,
Gleaning the unsaid off the palpable,

And if I spy into its golden loops
I see us walk between the railway slopes
Into an evening of long grass and midges,
Blue smoke straight up, old beds and ploughs in hedges,
An auction notice on an outhouse wall
You with a harvest bow in your lapel,

Me with the fishing rod, already homesick
For the big lift of these evenings, as your stick
Whacking the tips off weeds and bushes
Beats out of time, and beats, but flushes
Nothing: that original townland
Still tongue-tied in the straw tied by your hand.

The end of art is peace
Could be the motto of this frail device
That I have pinned up on our deal dresser
Like a drawn snare
Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn
Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Way It Is by Denise Levertov

The Way It Is

More real than ever, as I move
in the world, and never out of it,

Typewriter, telephone, ugly names
of things we use, I use. Among them, though,
float milkweed silks.

Like a mollusk’s, my hermitage
is built of my own cells.
Burned faces, stretched horribly,

eyes and mouths forever open,
weight the papers down on my desk.
No days for years I have not thought of them.

And more true than ever the familiar image
placing love on a border
where, solitary, it paces, exchanging
across the line a deep attentive gaze
with another solitude pacing there.

Yet almost no day, too, with no
happiness, no
exaltation of larks uprising from the heart’s
peat-bog darkness.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Poem in Which I Name the Bird by Hanif Abdurraqib

A Poem in Which I Name the Bird

that circled above our heads in the leveled wheat field off route 39
where you wore white pants & upon the threshed wheat laid, as the border

between us, a quilt that once sprung from the fingers of your mother’s mother
& that which will one day cover our bodies & to mask the sun,

there were two wings & I know the work of the poet is to say bird 
or to say wings & not speak of the lineage but if I tell you that as a boy

on my grandmother’s lap, we pointed to the sky at dusk & yelled the names of what cut
through the fat clouds on the way to somewhere  south of the season we reckoned

with & if I tell you that once, the albatross stretched itself over the project rooftop
& the land was black but for the snow that fell for six whole months & there were no funerals

& everyone stayed inside with someone who kept them warm
& if I tell you that all of this, lover I am reaching across the aching landscape to pull

close, then you must believe that in the wheat field, when we were together,
I knew well that what could eclipse the burning

or I knew well what would give the blessing of shade,
a darkness over anything trying to take us from each other

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Before Dawn by Federico García Lorca

Before Dawn

But like love
the archers
are blind 

The arrows
leave trails of hot
in the green night 

The moon-keel
shreds purple clouds
and the quivers
fill with dew 

Ay—but the archers
are blind
like love

(Translated by Sarah Arvio)

Monday, April 20, 2020

The Only World by Ben Purkert

The Only World

I was there, then saw it go. The world crawled
through the middle of the night and arrived needing

something to drink. The bar was closed, so the rain ran
its fingers through a neighboring tree. Many cars

passed, dreaming of changing lanes. It was,
how can I put this? The middle of the night had

little to say. You were there, listening to me
like a phone call you couldn’t take. It was too late

for another drink. Another time? And the world full
to the brim. As the storm gathered strength, windows

taped themselves shut. It was impossible to see precisely
how you felt. Impossible, I repeated, hearing the cars

that came and went, never the ones that stopped
to think. The world was all around. It was the rain

and how it fell. It was the wind pushing the tree
to leave its roots behind. And I was there, begging

you to let me stay the night. There was nowhere
I could go. There was you and that was it.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Ceremony for Remembering the Doorless World by Aracelis Girmay

Ceremony for Remembering the Doorless World


             where three we-horses mark ground,
turn snake our necks inside the guayla circle. My aranci,

             —etan, childfox
                                    out my fourth mouth, you drank
                      then the year went dark

                      & our own flowers & fires & what we thought we were

though, still, our faces opened to
              the whooping of coyotes

at the canyon rim,
                          how they throw their voices out,

              falling, starless veils of lace
                            over our still, black heads.

                            Awake I sit sentried with all my Sight
& the purple fennel musting after rain.
               This hour

                             Become my canyon, become my bottom of the
listening for your breaths—to ward off nonbreath.

    Parent, my son—My son,
                          a flicker barely

               born. Already

withstand the blanched eye of our grief

               One morning with our faces crying into
the arroyo it answers:
               Once there were no doors.
                                 No doors on earth, not a single one.

               —so when I listen I
still hear you still kicking the ball,

               laughing as you say the story of endurance.

               & the women flutter their flickering tongues
                         a flock of sound suddenly aflight to be,
               for you, both here & further

                        they throw their voicebirds over the births

                        so we are three & simultaneous earths inside
               your coil of fatherhair to which I press my ear to hear
the histories, then the bell

               Then the whirl  The whir
                             of doctors above your beds,
               your noiseless struggle to be.

                                                       Stay.        Say.
You are my Heres & Furthers
               Daddy, now I join the mothers

                    Remember, when you were a little boy
                             I used to hold you?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Mr Cogito Thinks of Returning to the City Where He Was Born by Zbigniew Herbert

Mr Cogito Thinks of Returning to the City Where He Was Born

If I went back there
probably I wouldn’t find
even a shadow from my house
nor the trees of childhood
not the cross with an iron plate
the bench where I whispered incantations
chestnuts and blood
nor a single thing that is ours 

all that was saved
is a flagstone
with a circle drawn in chalk
I stand in the centre
on one leg
the moment before jumping 

I cannot grow up
although years go by
and planets and wars
roar above 

I stand in the centre
motionless as a statue
on a single leg
before the leap to finality 

the circle of chalk turns red
like old blood
while all around
piles of ash are growing
up to my shoulders
up to my mouth

(Translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter)

Friday, April 17, 2020

On the Train, a Man Snatches My Book, Reads by Paige Lewis

On the Train, a Man Snatches My Book, Reads

On the train, a man snatches my book, reads
the last line, and says I completely get you,

you're not that complex. He could be right—lately
all my what ifs are about breath: what if

a glass-blower inhales at the wrong
moment? What if I'm drifting on a sailboat

and the wind stops? If he'd ask me how I'm
feeling, I'd give him the long version--I feel

as if I'm on the moon listening to the air hiss
out of my spacesuit, and I can't find the rip. I'm

the vice president of panic and the president is
missing. Most nights, I calm myself by listing

animals still on the least concern end of the
extinction spectrum: aardvarks and blackbirds

are fine. Minnows thrive--though this brings
me no relief--they can swim through sludge

if they have to. I don't think I've ever written
the word doom, but nothing else fits.

Every experience seems both urgent and
unnatural--like right now, this train

is approaching the station where my lover
is waiting to take me to the orchard so we can

pay for the memory of having once, at dusk,
plucked real apples from real trees.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Gift by Czesław Miłosz

The Gift

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

(Translated by Czesław Miłosz and Robert Haas)

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

For the Young Who Want To by Marge Piercy

For the Young Who Want To

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.