Friday, December 17, 2021

The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer by Wendell Berry

The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer

I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my
inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission
to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it.
I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts,
and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing,
and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven’s favor,
in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught
so often laughing at funerals, that was because
I knew the dead were already slipping away,
preparing a comeback, and can I help it?
And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed
my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom
had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not
be resurrected by a piece of cake. ‘Dance,’ they told me,
and I stood still, and while they stood
quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced.
‘Pray,’ they said, and I laughed, covering myself
in the earth’s brightnesses, and then stole off gray
into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.
When they said, ‘I know my Redeemer liveth,’
I told them, ‘He’s dead.’ And when they told me
‘God is dead,’ I answered, ‘He goes fishing every day
in the Kentucky River. I see Him often.’
When they asked me would I like to contribute
I said no, and when they had collected
more than they needed, I gave them as much as I had.
When they asked me to join them I wouldn’t,
and then went off by myself and did more
than they would have asked. ‘Well, then,’ they said
‘go and organize the International Brotherhood
of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing
everybody who was against peace?’ So be it.
Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony
thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what
I say I don’t know. It is not the only or the easiest
way to come to the truth. It is one way.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Privacy by Ada Limón


On the black wet branches of the linden,
still clinging to umber leaves of late fall,
two crows land. They say, “Stop,” and still I want
to make them into something they are not.
Odin’s ravens, the bruja’s eyes. What news
are they bringing of our world to the world
of the gods? It can’t be good. More suffering
all around, more stinging nettles and toxic
blades shoved into the scarred parts of us,
the minor ones underneath the trees. Rain
comes while I’m still standing, a trickle of water
from whatever we believe is beyond the sky.
The crows seem enormous but only because
I am watching them too closely. They do not
care to be seen as symbols. A shake of a wing,
and both of them are gone. There was no message
given, no message I was asked to give, only
their great absence and my sad privacy
returning like the bracing, empty wind
on the black wet branches of the linden.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem by Matthew Olzmann

Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem

So here’s what I’ve got, the reasons why our marriage
might work: Because you wear pink but write poems
about bullets and gravestones. Because you yell
at your keys when you lose them, and laugh,
loudly, at your own jokes. Because you can hold a pistol,
gut a pig. Because you memorize songs, even commercials
from thirty years back and sing them when vacuuming.
You have soft hands. Because when we moved, the contents
of what you packed were written inside the boxes.
Because you think swans are overrated and kind of stupid.
Because you drove me to the train station. You drove me
to Minneapolis. You drove me to Providence.
Because you underline everything you read, and circle
the things you think are important, and put stars next
to the things you think I should think are important,
and write notes in the margins about all the people
you’re mad at and my name almost never appears there.
Because you made that pork recipe you found
in the Frida Kahlo Cookbook. Because when you read
that essay about Rilke, you underlined the whole thing
except the part where Rilke says love means to deny the self
and to be consumed in flames. Because when the lights
are off, the curtains drawn, and an additional sheet is nailed
over the windows, you still believe someone outside
can see you. And one day five summers ago,
when you couldn’t put gas in your car, when your fridge
was so empty—not even leftovers or condiments—
there was a single twenty-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew,
which you paid for with your last damn dime
because you once overheard me say that I liked it.

The Space Heater by Sharon Olds

The Space Heater

On the then-below-zero day, it was on,
near the patients' chair, the old heater
kept by the analyst's couch, at the end,
like the infant's headstone that was added near the foot
of my father's grave. And it was hot, with the almost
laughing satire of a fire's heat,
the little coils like hairs in Hell.
And it was making a group of sick noises—
I wanted the doctor to turn it off
but I couldn't seem to ask, so I just
stared, but it did not budge. The doctor
turned his heavy, soft palm
outward, toward me, inviting me to speak, I
said, "If you're cold-are you cold? But if it's on
for me..." He held his palm out toward me,
I tried to ask, but I only muttered,
but he said, "Of course," as if I had asked,
and he stood up and approached the heater, and then
stood on one foot, and threw himself
toward the wall with one hand, and with the other hand
reached down, behind the couch, to pull
the plug out. I looked away,
I had not known he would have to bend
like that. And I was so moved, that he
would act undignified, to help me,
that I cried, not trying to stop, but as if
the moans made sentences which bore
some human message. If he would cast himself toward the
outlet for me, as if bending with me in my old
shame and horror, then I would rest
on his art-and the heater purred, like a creature
or the familiar of a creature, or the child of a familiar,
the father of a child, the spirit of a father,
the healing of a spirit, the vision of healing,
the heat of vision, the power of heat,
the pleasure of power.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Little Spy in My Bedroom by Yusef Komunyakaa

Little Spy in My Bedroom

What’s that ticking sound
under the red velvet sofa,
breathing a little click-song
stolen from South Africa,
perched on a windowsill
or lost in a coffin drawer
singing a half-pint of good
luck, aping such big emotion?
Whatever it is, it materialized
up here on the second floor,
as if from my head—the silent
timekeeper’s rasping alarm.
I pace around the room, careful
not to trip on the tiger rug,
to search out the mechanical
night song of a small being.
What good can it bring now
in our highly evolved world
of climate change & hunting
death stars to give the names
of hermit kings & outlaws.
Love, have I always listened
with my whole damn body,
18k. tick of a pocket watch?
I rise, gazing into an inlaid box
of hex signs & cheap rings.
Now I hardly hear the faint
noise, yet know it is here.
I cover my eyes with my left
hand to hear the machine
pulse of a careless heart, &
in a patch of early-morning
sunlight I see a black cricket.
Someone kicks off her shoe
before I can think to say, No,
one of us must show mercy.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

The Second Slaughter by Lucia Perillo

The Second Slaughter

Achilles slays the man who slew his friend, pierces the corpse
behind the heels and drags it
behind his chariot like the cans that trail
a bride and groom. Then he lays out
a banquet for his men, oxen and goats
and pigs and sheep; the soldiers eat
until a greasy moonbeam lights their beards.
The first slaughter is for victory, but the second slaughter is for grief—
in the morning more animals must be killed
for burning with the body of the friend. But Achilles finds
no consolation in the hiss and crackle of their fat;
not even heaving four stallions on the pyre
can lift the ballast of his sorrow.
And here I turn my back on the epic hero—the one who slits
the throats of his friend’s dogs,
killing what the loved one loved
to reverse the polarity of grief. Let him repent
by vanishing from my concern
after he throws the dogs onto the fire.
The singed fur makes the air too difficult to breathe.
When the oil wells of Persia burned I did not weep
until I heard about the birds, the long-legged ones especially
which I imagined to be scarlet, with crests like egrets
and tails like peacocks, covered in tar
weighting the feathers they dragged through black shallows
at the rim of the marsh. But once
I told this to a man who said I was inhuman, for giving animals
my first lament. So now I guard
my inhumanity like the jackal
who appears behind the army base at dusk,
come there for scraps with his head lowered
in a posture that looks like appeasement
though it is not.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Little Box by Vasko Popa

The Little Box

The little box gets her first teeth
And her little length
Little width little emptiness
And all the rest she has
The little box continues growing
The cupboard that she was inside
Is now inside her
And she grows bigger bigger bigger
Now the room is inside her
And the house and the city and the earth
And the world she was in before
The little box remembers her childhood
And by a great longing
She becomes a little box again
Now in the little box
You have the whole world in miniature
You can easily put in a pocket
Easily steal it lose it
Take care of the little box
(translated by Charles Simić)

Friday, December 10, 2021

Visiting San Francisco by Vijay Seshadri

Visiting San Francisco

I wanted to curl up
in the comfortable cosmic melancholy of my past,
in the sadness of my past being passed.
I wanted to tour the museum of my antiquities
and look at the sarcophagi there.
I wanted to wallow like a water buffalo in the cool,
sagacious mud of my past,
so I wrote you and said I’d be in town and could we meet.
But you think my past is your present.
You wouldn’t relent, you wouldn’t agree
to dinner or a cup of coffee or even a bag of peanuts
on a bench in North Beach.
You didn’t want to curl up or tour or wallow with me.
You’re still mad, long after the days
have turned into decades, about the ways I let you down.
The four hundred thousand ways.
Maybe I would be, too.
But people have done worse to me.
I don’t think I’m being grotesque when I tell you
I’ve been flayed and slayed and force-fed anguish.
I’ve been a human cataract
plunging through a noose and going to pieces on the rocks.
I’ve been a seagull tethered to Alcatraz.
What can I say, what more can I say, how much more
vulnerable can I be, to persuade you
now that I’ve persuaded myself?
Why can’t you just let it go?
Well, at least I’m in San Francisco.
San Francisco, where the homeless are most at home—
crouching over their tucker bags under your pollarded trees—
because your beauty is as free to them
as to the domiciled in their
dead-bolt domiciles, your beauty is as free to
the innocent as to the guilty.
The fog has burned off.
In a cheap and windy room on Russian Hill
a man on the run unwraps the bandages
swaddling his new face, his reconstructed face,
and looks in the mirror and sees
the face of Humphrey Bogart. Only here
could such a thing happen.
It was really always you, San Francisco,
time won’t ever darken my love for you,
San Francisco.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Skeletons by Deborah Landau


So whatever’s the opposite of a Buddhist that’s what I am.
Kindhearted, yes, but knee deep in existential gloom,
except when the fog smokes the bridges like this—
like, instead of being afraid we might juice ourselves up,
eh, like, might get kissed again? Dwelling in bones I go straight
through life, a sublime abundance—cherries, dog’s breath, the sun, then
(ouch) & all of us snuffed out. Dear one, what is waiting for us tonight,
nostalgia? the homes of childhood? oblivion? How we hate to go—
Sundays I spend feeling sorry for myself I’ve got a
knack for it I’m morbid, make the worst of any season
exclamation point       yet levity’s a liquor of sorts,
lowers us through life toward the terminus soon
extinguished       darling, the comfort is slight,
tucked in bed we search each other for some alternative—
oh let’s marvel at the world, the stroke and colors of it
now, while breathing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

How to be a son by Omar Sakr

How to be a son

My father was for the longest time
a plastic smile locked under the bed.
Before that, he was whatever came
out of my mother’s mouth. He was I’ll tell you
when you’re older. He was winding smoke,
a secret name. That fucking Turk.
He was foreign word, distant country.
I gave myself up to her hands which also
fathered; they shaped me into flinch.
Into hesitant crouch, expectant bruise.
Into locked door, CIA black site—
my body unknown and denied to any
but the basest men. I said beat my father
into me please, but he couldn’t be found.
And when he was, I wished he remained
lost. He blamed himself for the men I want.
A father can negate any need he thinks
they are the sum of all desires he thinks
absence has a gender. Listen.
You can’t backdate love, it destroys
history, which is all that I have & so
like any man, want to abandon.
In the absence of time I will invent
roses, a lineage beyond geography,
then all manner of gorgeous people
who rove in desert and olive grove,
in wet kingdoms, on the hunt for villages
where a boy can love a boy & still be
called son

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Curl by Diane Seuss


No longer at home in the world
and I imagine
never again at home in the world.
Not in cemeteries of bogs
churning with bullfrogs.
Or outside the old pickle shop.
I once make myself
at home on that street,
and the street after that,
and the boulevard. The avenue.
I don’t need to explain it to you.
It seems wrong
to curl now within the confines
of a poem. You can’t hide f
rom what you made
inside what you made
or so I’m told.

Monday, December 6, 2021

us by Tory Dent


in your arms
it was incredibly often
enough to be 
in your arms
careful as we had to be at times
about the I.V. catheter
in my hand,
or my wrist,
or my forearm
which we placed, consciously,
like a Gamboni vase,
the center of attention,
placed, frail identity
as if our someday-newborn
on your chest—
to be secluded, washed over
in your arms
often enough, it was
in that stillness, the only stillness
amidst the fears which wildly collided
and the complexities
of the illness, all the work
we had yet to do, had just done,
the hope, ridiculous amounts of it
we had to pump
from nothing, really,
short-lived consensus
possibility & experiment
to access
from our pinched and tiny minds
just the idea of hope
make it from scratch, air and water
like manufactured snow
a colossal fatigue
the severe concentration
of that, the repetition of that
lifted for a moment
just above your arms
inevitable, pressuring
it weighed down
but remained above
like a cathedral ceiling,
strangely sheltering
while I held tightly 
while there I could
in your arms
only there, the only stillness
remember the will,
allow the pull, tow against inevitable ebb—
you don't need reasons to live
one reason, blinking in the fog,
organically sweet in muddy dark
incredibly often enough
it is, it was
in your arms

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Jack Johnson Does the Eagle Rock by Cornelius Eady

 Jack Johnson Does the Eagle Rock

Perhaps he left the newspaper stand that morning
dazed, a few pennies lighter.
The illustration of the crippled ocean liner
with the berth he had the money
But not the skin to buy
Engraving itself
On that portion of the mind reserved for
lucky breaks.
Perhaps the newsboy, a figure too small to
bring back,
Actually heard his laugh,
As the S.S. Titanic, sans one prize fighter,
Goes down again all over New York,
Watched his body dance
As his arms lift the ship, now a simple millimeter thick,
above his head
In the bustling air, lift it up
As though it was meant to happen.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Isn’t There Something by Jean Valentine

Isn’t There Something 

Isn’t there something in me
like the dogs I’ve heard at home
who bark all night from hunger? Something
in me like trains leaving,
isn’t there something in me
like a gun? I wanted to be
loud squirrels, around the trees’ feet,
bees, coming back & back
to the wooden porch,
wanting something—and wooden planks,
wanting something. To go back into
a tree?
               I want to go back to you,
who when you were dying said
“There are one or two people you don’t want to
let go of.” Here too, where I don’t let go of you. 

Friday, December 3, 2021

Depressed by a Book of Bad Poetry, I Walk Toward an Unused Pasture and Invite the Insects to Join Me by James Wright

Depressed by a Book of Bad Poetry, I Walk Toward an Unused Pasture and Invite the Insects to Join Me

Relieved, I let the book fall behind a stone.
I climb a slight rise of grass.
I do not want to disturb the ants
Who are walking single file up the fence post,
Carrying small white petals,
Casting shadows so frail that I can see through them.
I close my eyes for a moment and listen.
The old grasshoppers
Are tired, they leap heavily now,
Their thighs are burdened.
I want to hear them, they have clear sounds to make.
Then lovely, far off, a dark cricket begins
In the maple trees. 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

little prayer by Danez Smith

little prayer

let ruin end here
let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter
let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs
let this be the healing
& if not     let it be

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Wait by Adrienne Rich


In paradise every
the desert wind is rising
third thought
in hell there are no thoughts
is of earth
sand screams against your government
issued tent      hell's noise
in your nostrils      crawl
into your ear-shell
wrap yourself in no-thought
wait     no place for the little lyric
wedding-ring glint the reason why
on earth
they never told you