Sunday, August 28, 2022

Route by George Oppen


                                        'the void eternally generative'
                                        the Wen Fu of Lu Chi
Tell the beads of the chromosomes like a rosary,
Love in the genes, if it fails
We will produce no sane man again
I have seen too many young people become adults, young
           friends become old people, all that is not ours,
The sources
And the crude bone
                     —we say
Took place
Like the mass of the hills.
'The sun is a molten mass'. Therefore
Fall into oneself—?
Reality, blind eye
Which has taught us to stare—
Your elbow on a car-edge
Incognito as summer,
I wrote. Not you but a girl
At least
Clarity, clarity, surely clarity is the most beautiful
           thing in the world,
A limited, limiting clarity
I have not and never did have any motive of poetry
But to achieve clarity
Troubled that you are not, as they say,
I think we try rather to understand,
We try also to remain together
There is a force of clarity, it is
Of what is not autonomous in us,
We suffer a certain fear
Things alter, surrounded by a depth
And width
The unreality of our house in moonlight
Is that if the moonlight strikes
It is truly there tho it is ours
Not to reduce the thing to nothing—
I might at the top of my ability stand at a window
and say, look out; out there is the world.
Not the desire for approval nor even for love—O,
that trap! From which escaped, barely—if it fails
We will produce no sane man again
Words cannot be wholly transparent. And that is the
           'heartlessness' of words.
Neither friends nor lovers are coeval...
as for a long time we have abandoned those in
           extremity and we find it unbearable that we should
           do so...
The sea anemone dreamed of something, filtering the sea
           water thru its body,
Nothing more real than boredom—dreamlessness, the
           experience of time, never felt by the new arrival,
           never at the doors, the thresholds, it is the native
Native in native time...
The purity of the materials, not theology, but to present
           the circumstances
         In Alsace, during the war, we found ourselves on the
edge of the Battle of the Bulge. The front was inactive, but
we were spread so thin that the situation was eerily precar-
ous. We hardly knew where the next squad was, and it was
not in sight—a quiet and deserted hill in front of us. We dug
in near a farmhouse. Pierre Adam, tho he was a journeyman
mason, lived with his wife and his children in tha farmhouse.
         During the occupation the Germans had declared Alsace
a part of Greater Germany. Therefore they had drafted
Alsatian men into the German army. Many men, learning in
their own way that they were to be called, dug a hole. The
word became a part of the langauge: faire une trou. Some
men were in those holes as long as two and three years. It
was necessary that someone should know where those holes
were; in winter it was impossible for a man to come out of
his hole without leaving footprints in the snow. While snow
was actually falling, however, a friend could come to the hole
with food and other help. Pierre, whom many people trusted,
knew where some two dozen of those holes were.
         The Germans became aware that men were going into
hiding, and they began to make reprisals. If the man was
young and unmarried, they killed his parents. If the man was
married, they took his wife into Germany to the army broth-
els, it was said. They took children into Germany, and it
was not certain whether those children would remember
where they came from. Pierre told me this stroy:
         Men would come to Pierre and they would say: I am
thinking of making a hole. Pierre would say: yes. They would
say then: but if I do they will kill my parents; or; they will
take my wife and my children. Then Peirre would say, he
told me: if you dig a hole,    I will help you.
         He knew, of course, what he was telling me. You must
try to put yourself into those times. If one thought he knew
anything, it was that a man should not join the Nazi army.
Pierre himself learned, shortly before the Americans arrived,
that he was about to be drafted. He and his wife discusses
the children. They thought of tattoing the children's names
and addresses on their chests so that perhaps they could be
found after the war. But they thought that perhaps the tattoo-
ing would be cut out of the children...They did not, finally,
have to make that decision, as it turned out. But what a con-
versation between a man and his wife—
          There was an escape from that dilemma, as, in a way,
there always is. Pierre told me of a man who, receiving the
notification that he was to report to the German army, called
a celebration and farewell at his home. Nothing was said at
that party that was not jovial. They drank and sang. At the
proper time, the host got his bicycle and waved goodbye. The
house stood at the top of a hill and, still waving and calling
farewells, he rode with great energy and as fast as he could
down the hill, and, at the bottom, drove into a tree.
It must be hard to do. Probably easier in an automobile.
There is, in an automobile, a considerable time during which
you cannot change your mind. Riding a bicycle, since in those
woods it is impossible that the tree should be a redwood, it
must be necessary to continue aiming at the tree right up to
the moment of impact. Undoubtely difficult to do. And, of
course, the children had no father. Thereafter.
Wars that are just? A simpler question: In the event,
will you or will you not want to kill a German. Because
in the event, if you do not want to, you won't.
...and my wife was reading letters she knew were two weeks
late and did not prove I was not dead while she read. Why
did I play all that, what was I doing there?
We are brother, we are brothers?—these things are
composed of a moral subtance only if they are untrue. If
these things are true they are perfectly simple, perfectly
impenetrable, those primary elements which can only be
A man will give his life for his friend provided he wants
In all probability a man will give his life for his child
provided his child is an infant.
...One man could not understand me because I was saying
simple things; it seemed to him that nothing was being
said. I was saying: there is a mountain, there is a lake
A picture seen from within. The picture is unstable, a
moving picture, unlimited drift. Still, the picture
The circumstance:
And if at 80
He says what has been commonly said
It is for the sake of old times, a cozy game
He wishes to join again, an unreasonable speech
Out of context
Cars on the highway filled with speech,
People talk, they talk to each other;
Imagine a man in the ditch,
The wheels of the overturned wreck
Still spinning—
I don't mean he despairs, I mean if he does not
He sees in the manner of poetry
The cars run in a void of utensils
—the powerful tires—beyond
Tough rubbery gear of invaders, of the descendents
Of invaders, I begin to be aware of a countryside
And the exposed weeds of a ditch
The context is history
Moving toward the light of the conscious
And beyond, culvert, blind curb, there are also names
For these things, language in the appalling fields
I remember my father as a younger man than I am now,
My mother was a tragic girl
Long ago, the autonomous figures are gone,
The context is the thousands of days
Not the symbol bu the scene this pavement leads
To roadsides—the finite
Losing its purposes
Its estranged
All this is reportage.
If having come so far we shall have
Let it be small enough.
what was there to be thought
comes by the road
Tell the life of the mind, the mind creates the finite.
All punishes him. I stumble over these stories—
Progeny, the possibility of progeny, continuity
Or love that tempted him
He is punished by place, by scene, by all that holds
all he has found, this pavement, the silent symbols
Of it, the word it, never more powerful than in this
moment. Well, hardly an epiphany, but there the thing
is all the same
All this is reportage
To insist that what is true is good, no matter, no matter,
           a definition—?
That tree
           whose fruit...
The weight of air
Measured by the barometer in the parlor,
Time remains what it was
Oddly, oddly insistent
haunting the people in the automobiles,
shining on the sheetmetal,
open and present, unmarred by indifference,
wheeled traffic, indifference,
the hard edge of concrete continually crumbling
into gravel in the gravel of the shoulders,
Ditches of our own country
Whom shall I speak to
Department of Plants and Structures—obsolete, the old name
In this city, of the public works
Tho we meant to entangel ourselves in the roots of the world
An unexpected and forgotten spoor, all but indestructible
To owe nothing to fortune, to chance, nor by the power of
            his heart
Or her heart to have made these things sing
But the benevolence of the real
Tho there is no longer shelter in the earth, round helpless belly
Or hope amoung the pipes and broken works
'Substance itself which is the subject of all our planning'
And by this we are carried into the incalculable
There was no other guarantee
Ours aren't the only madmen tho they have burned thousands
of men and women alive, perhaps no madder than most
Strange to be here, strange for them also, insane and criminal,
who hasn't noticed that, strange to be man, we have come
rather far
We are at the beginning of a radical depopulation of the earth
Cataclysm...cataclysm of the plains, jungles, the cities
Something in the soil exposed between two oceans
As Cabeza de Vaca found a continent of spiritual despair
in campsites
His miracles among the Indians heralding cataclysm
Even Cortés greeted as revelation...No I'd not emigrate,
I'd not live in a ship's bar wherever we may be healed
These things at the limits of reason, nothing at the limits
of dream, the dream merely ends, by this we know it is the
That we confront

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Ode to the Female Reproductive System by Sharon Olds

Ode to the Female Reproductive System

I first saw you in a simple line
drawing, black and white, on an unfolded
sheet of insertion instructions, the side
view of a girl—a passageway, at a
slant, up and back, to a blunt,
humble thing, like the outline
of a wading bird’s bowed head
made on a wall by a drooped hand
held in the beam of a flashlight in the dark.
Later I saw you in an illustration
in a magazine, in full, damsel
color, the middle sister between
the magenta genie of the rectum and the little
stork dancer of the urinary bladder
up on the fine, slender leg
of the ureter. All three of you
had a rosy enclosedness, but you
were the central grace. And when I saw you, in a textbook
of anatomy, full frontal, I saw
a feral unseeing creature, like a she-ram
with great fallopian horns. In some drawings,
the fimbrial fringe at the frayed end of the
tube was reaching out, with a beckoning
suction, toward the ovary, as if
sirening up an egg—and in others
the entire apparatus of you
looked like a ghost costume, the child in it
making the haunted Woooo, woooo.
But mostly it looked like an instrument, a
graceful lyre, which would be played in me
to call a being forth from another
world, from the future, bringing her own harp with her.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Poem [Your breath was shed] by Dylan Thomas

Poem [Your breath was shed]

Your breath was shed
Invisible to make
About the soiled undead
Night for my sake, 
A raining trail
Intangible to them
With biter's tooth and tail
And cobweb drum, 
A dark as deep
My love as a round wave
To hide the wolves of sleep
And mask the grave. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

praise, after by Danez Smith

praise, after

in my most recent future, I am young & beautiful & dead, the bones undressing themselves, the body turned to an idea of the body. or let’s say there is a cure & the parades that follow & I live to see my children & the oceans grow bigger, see my mother lowered into & become the earth. I hope I bury my mother. don’t make her deal with the business of dressing me. It’s been so long since the last time & may she never again. but that’s not what this poem is for. I’m want to talk about blunts & boys, how both burn my lips so, how they call the wings to my shoulders. I want to talk about the impossible impossible of God or the smell of good rain or how joy is the black girl who made me soft collards & peppered fish before she took me into the room & showed me my name. I don’t want to talk about the virus, so to hell with the virus. to hell with blood. to hell with yesterday & the settled dust. to hell with shame & loathing & shame & madness & shame & shame & shame & shame. I’m not ashamed of all my mouth has turned into a river of pearls, for my body & all the false gods worshipped here. my body a godless church, holy for no reason beyond itself. let the bloodcurse be the old testament & each day I am still alive be the new. if there is no savior, I’ll do it myself, I’ll forgive myself of my sins. I forgive. I forgive. I forgive. I forgive. I live. I live.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Will You? by Carrie Fountain

Will You?

When, at the end, the children wanted
to add glitter to their valentines, I said no.
I said nope, no, no glitter, and then,
when they started to fuss, I found myself
saying something my brother’s football coach
used to bark from the sidelines when one
of his players showed signs of being
human: oh come on now, suck it up.
That’s what I said to my children.
Suck what up? my daughter asked,
and, because she is so young, I told her
I didn’t know and never mind, and she took
that for an answer. My children are so young
when I turn off the radio as the news turns
to counting the dead or naming the act,
they aren’t even suspicious. My children
are so young they cannot imagine a world
like the one they live in. Their God is still
a real God, a whole God, a God made wholly
of actions. And I think they think I work
for that God. And I know they will someday soon
see everything and they will know about
everything and they will no longer take
never mind for an answer. The valentines
would’ve been better with glitter, and my son
hurt himself on an envelope, and then, much
later, when we were eating dinner, my daughter
realized she’d forgotten one of the three
Henrys in her class. How can there be three Henrys
in one class? I said, and she said, Because there are.
And so, before bed we took everything out
again—paper and pens and stamps and scissors—
and she sat at the table with her freshly washed hair
parted smartly down the middle and wrote
WILL YOU BE MINE, HENRY T.? and she did it
so carefully, I could hardly stand to watch. 

Friday, August 19, 2022

Testimony by Dan Pagis


No no: they definitely were
human beings: uniforms, boots.
How to explain? They were created
in the image.
I was a shade.
A different creator made me.
And he in his mercy left nothing of me that would die.
And I fled to him, rose weightless, blue,
forgiving – I would even say: apologizing –
smoke to omnipotent smoke
without image or likeness.
(Translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Everything I Know About Blackness I Learned from Donald Trump by Shane McCrae

Everything I Know About Blackness I Learned from Donald Trump

“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”
America I was driving when I heard you
Had died I swerved into a ditch and wept
In the dream I dreamed unconscious in the ditch
America      I dreamed you climbed from the ditch
You must believe your body is and any
Body and stood beside the ditch for eight years
Thinking      except you didn’t stand you right
Away lay down on your pale belly
And tried to claw your way back to the ditch
You right away began to wail      and weep
And gnash your teeth      my tears met yours in the ditch
America      they carry me downstream
A slave on the run from you      an Egyptian queen
And even in my dreams I’m in your dreams

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Weeds by Diane Seuss


The danger of memory is going
to it for respite. Respite risks
entrapment. Don’t debauch
yourself by living
in some former version of yourself
that was more or less naked. Maybe
it felt better then, but you were
not better. You were smaller, as the rain
gauge must fill to the brim
with its full portion of suffering.
What can memory be in these terrible times?
Only instruction. Not a dwelling.
Or if you must dwell:
The sweet smell of weeds then.
The sweet smell of weeds now.
An endurance. A standoff. A rest.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Lenox Hill by Agha Shahid Ali

Lenox Hill

(In Lenox Hill Hospital, after surgery, my
mother said the sirens sounded like the
elephants of Mihiragula when his men drove
them off cliffs in the Pir Panjal Range.)
The Hun so loved the cry, one falling elephant’s,
he wished to hear it again. At dawn, my mother
heard, in her hospital-dream of elephants,
sirens wail through Manhattan like elephants
forced off Pir Panjal’s rock cliffs in Kashmir:
the soldiers, so ruled, had rushed the elephants.
The greatest of all footprints is the elephant’s,,
said the Buddha. But not lifted from the universe,
those prints vanished forever into the universe,
though nomads still break news of those elephants
as if it were just yesterday the air spread the dye
(“War’s annals will fade into night / Ere their story die” ),
the punishing khaki whereby the world sees us die
out, mourning you, O massacred elephants!
Months later, in Amherst, she dreamt: She was, with dia-
monds, being stoned to death. I prayed: If she must die,
let it only be some dream. But there were times, Mother,
while you slept, that I prayed, “Saints, let her die.”
Not, I swear by you, that I wished you to die
but to save you as you were, young, in song in Kashmir,
and I, one festival, crowned Krishna by you, Kashmir
listening to my flute. You never let gods die.
Thus I swear, here and now, not to forgive the universe
that would let me get used to a universe
without you. She, she alone, was the universe
as she earned, like a galaxy, her right not to die,
defying the Merciful of the Universe,
Master of Disease, “in the circle of her traverse”
of drug-bound time. And where was the god of elephants,
plump with Fate, when tusk to tusk, the universe,
dyed green, became ivory? Then let the universe,
like Paradise, be considered a tomb. Mother,
they asked me, So how’s the writing?, I answered My mother,
is my poem,. What did they expect? For no verse
sufficed except the promise, fading, of Kashmir
and the cries that reached you from the cliffs of Kashmir
(across fifteen centuries) in the hospital. Kashmir,,
she’s dying!, How her breathing drowns out the universe
as she sleeps in Amherst. Windows open on Kashmir:
There,, the fragile wood-shrines—so far away—of Kashmir!
O Destroyer, let her return there, if just to die.
Save the right she gave its earth to cover her, Kashmir
has no rights. When the windows close on Kashmir,
I see the blizzard-fall of ghost-elephants.
I hold back—she couldn’t bear it—one elephant’s
story: his return (in a country far from Kashmir)
to the jungle where each year, on the day his mother
died, he touches with his trunk the bones of his mother.
“As you sit here by me, you’re just like my mother,”
she tells me. I imagine her: a bride in Kashmir,
she’s watching, at the Regal, her first film with Father.
If only I could gather you in my arms, Mother,
I’d save you—now my daughter—from God. The universe
opens its ledger. I write: How helpless was God’s mother!
Each page is turned to enter grief’s accounts. Mother,
I see a hand. Tell me it’s not God’s,. Let it die.
I see it. It’s filling with diamonds. Please let it die.
Are you somewhere, alive, somewhere alive, Mother?,
Do you hear what I once held back: in one elephant’s
cry, by his mother’s bones, the cries of those elephants
that stunned the abyss? Ivory blots out the elephants.
I enter this: The Belovéd leaves one behind to die.,
For compared to my grief for you, what are those of Kashmir,
and what (I close the ledger) are the griefs of the universe
when I remember you—beyond all accounting—O my mother?


The Revolutionists Stop for Orangeade by Wallace Stevens

The Revolutionists Stop for Orangeade

Capitán profundo, capitán geloso,
Ask us not to sing standing in the sun,
Hairy-backed and hump-armed,
Flat-ribbed and big-bagged.
There is no pith in music
Except in something false.
Bellissimo, pomposo,
Sing a song of serpent-kin,
Necks among the thousand leaves,
Tongues around the fruit.
Sing in clownish boots
Strapped and buckled bright.
Wear the breeches of a mask,
Coat half-flare and half galloon;
Wear a helmet without reason,
Tufted, tilted, twirled, and twisted.
Start the singing in a voice
Rougher than a grinding shale.
Hang a feather by your eye,
Nod and look a little sly.
This must be the vent of pity,
Deeper than a truer ditty
Of the real that wrenches,
Of the quick that’s wry.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Too Bright to See by Linda Gregg

Too Bright to See

Just before dark the light gets dark. Violet
where my hands pull weeds around the Solomon's seals.
I see with difficulty what before was easy.
Perceive what I saw before
but with more tight effort. I am moon
to what I am doing and what I was.
It is a real beauty that I lived
and dreamed would be, now know
but never then. Can tell by looking hard,
feeling which is weed and what is form.
My hands are intermediary. Neither lover
nor liar. Sweet being, if you are anywhere that hears,
come quickly. I weep, face set, no tears, mouth open.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

The African Burial Ground by Yusef Komunyakaa

The African Burial Ground

They came as Congo, Guinea, & Angola,
    feet tuned to rhythms of a thumb piano.
        They came to work fields of barley & flax,
livestock, stone & slab, brick & mortar,
    to make wooden barrels, some going
        from slave to servant & half-freeman.
They built tongue & groove—wedged
    into their place in New Amsterdam.
        Decades of seasons changed the city
from Dutch to York, & dream-footed
    hard work rattled their bones.
        They danced Ashanti. They lived
& died. Shrouded in cloth, in cedar
    & pine coffins, Trinity Church
        owned them in six & a half acres
of sloping soil. Before speculators
    arrived grass & weeds overtook
        what was most easily forgotten,
& tannery shops drained there.
Did descendants & newcomers
    shoulder rock & heave loose gravel
into the landfill before building crews
    came, their guitars & harmonicas
        chasing away ghosts at lunch break?
Soon, footsteps of lower Manhattan
    strutted overhead, back & forth
        between old denials & new arrivals,
going from major to minor pieties,
    always on the go. The click of heels
        the tap of a drum awaking the dead.  

Crescent by C. D. Wright


In recent months I have become intent on seizing happi-
ness: to this end I applied various shades of blue: only
the evening is outside us now propagating honeysuckle:
I am trying to invent a new way of moving under my
dress: the room squares off against this: watch the water
glitter with excitement: when we cut below the silver
skin of the surface the center retains its fluidity: do I still
remind you of a locust clinging to a branch: I give you
an idea of the damages: you would let edges be edges:
believe me: when their eyes poured over your long body
of poetry I also was there: when they laid their hands on
your glass shade I also was there: when they their
whole trust in your grace I had to step outside to get
away from the cravenness: we have done these things to
each other without benefit of a mirror: unlike the hon-
eysuckle goodness does not overtake us: yet the thigh
keeps quiet under nylon: later beneath the blueness of the
trees the future falls out of place: something always hap-
pens: draw nearer my dear: never fear: the world spins
nightly toward its brightness and we are on it

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Sonnet by Elizabeth Bishop


Caught — the bubble
in the spirit level,
a creature divided;
and the compass needle
wobbling and wavering,
Freed — the broken
thermometer’s mercury
running away;
and the rainbow-bird
from the narrow bevel
of the empty mirror,
flying wherever
it feels like, gay!