Monday, August 31, 2009

What Came to Me

By Jane Kenyon

I took the last
dusty piece of china
out of the barrel.
It was your gravy boat,
with a hard, brown
drop of gravy still
on the porcelain lip.
I grieved for you then
as I never had before.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

For the Union Dead

By Robert Lowell

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city's throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound's gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man's lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die--
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year--
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .

Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his "niggers."

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages"
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessèd break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

O Captain! My Captain!

By Walt Whitman

1
O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

2
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

3
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Our Son Swears He Has 102 Gallons of Water in His Body

By Naomi Shihab Nye

Somewhere a mistaken word distorts the sum:
divide becomes multiply so he’d wrestle his parents
who defy what he insists. I did the problem
and my teacher said I was right!
Light strokes the dashboard.
We are years away from its source.
Remember that jug of milk?
No way you’re carrying one hundred of those!
But he knows. He always knows. We’re idiots
without worksheets to back us up. His mother never remembers
what a megabyte means and his dad fainted on an airplane once
and smashed his head on the drinks cart. We’re nice but we’re
not always smart. It’s the fact you live with, having parents.
Later in a calmer moment his dad recalculates
the sum and it comes out true.
Instead of carrying giant waterfalls inside,
we’re streams, sweet pools, something to dip into
with an old metal cup, like the one we took camping,
that nobody could break.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Father's Geography

By Afaa M. Weaver

I was parading the Côte d'Azur,
hopping the short trains from Nice to Cannes,
following the maze of streets in Monte Carlo
to the hill that overlooks the ville.
A woman fed me pâté in the afternoon,
calling from her stall to offer me more.
At breakfast I talked in French with an old man
about what he loved about America--the Kennedys.

On the beaches I walked and watched
topless women sunbathe and swim,
loving both home and being so far from it.

At a phone looking to Africa over the Mediterranean,
I called my father, and, missing me, he said,
"You almost home boy. Go on cross that sea!"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In a Country

By Larry Levis

My love and I are inventing a country, which we
can already see taking shape, as if wheels were
passing through yellow mud. But there is a prob-
lem: if we put a river in the country, it will thaw
and begin flooding. If we put the river on the bor-
der, there will be trouble. If we forget about the
river, there will be no way out. There is already a
sky over that country, waiting for clouds or smoke.
Birds have flown into it, too. Each evening more
trees fill with their eyes, and what they see we can
never erase.

One day it was snowing heavily, and again we were
lying in bed, watching our country: we could
make out the wide river for the first time, blue and
moving. We seemed to be getting closer; we saw
our wheel tracks leading into it and curving out
of sight behind us. It looked like the land we had
left, some smoke in the distance, but I wasn't sure.
There were birds calling. The creaking of our
wheels. And as we entered that country, it felt as if
someone was touching our bare shoulders, lightly,
for the last time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Secretary Chant

By Marge Piercy

My hips are a desk,
From my ears hang
chains of paper clips.
Rubber bands form my hair.
My breasts are quills of
mimeograph ink.
My feet bear casters,
Buzz. Click.
My head is a badly organized file.
My head is a switchboard
where crossed lines crackle.
Press my fingers
and in my eyes appear
credit and debit.
Zing. Tinkle.
My navel is a reject button.
From my mouth issue canceled reams.
Swollen, heavy, rectangular
I am about to be delivered
of a baby
Xerox machine.
File me under W
because I wonce
was
a woman.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Alone

By Maya Angelou

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Scratch

By Raymond Carver

I woke up with a spot of blood
over my eye. A scratch
halfway across my forehead.
But I'm sleeping alone these days.
Why on earth would a man raise his hand
against himself, even in sleep?
It's this and similar questions
I'm trying to answer this morning.
As I study my face in the window.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Elephant is Slow to Mate

By D. H. Lawrence

The elephant, the huge old beast,
is slow to mate;
he finds a female, they show no haste
they wait

for the sympathy in their vast shy hearts
slowly, slowly to rouse
as they loiter along the river-beds
and drink and browse

and dash in panic through the brake
of forest with the herd,
and sleep in massive silence, and wake
together, without a word.

So slowly the great hot elephant hearts
grow full of desire,
and the great beasts mate in secret at last,
hiding their fire.

Oldest they are and the wisest of beasts
so they know at last
how to wait for the loneliest of feasts
for the full repast.

They do not snatch, they do not tear;
their massive blood
moves as the moon-tides, near, more near
till they touch in flood.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Otherwise

By Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fast Gas

By Dorianne Laux

Before the days of self service,
when you never had to pump your own gas,
I was the one who did it for you, the girl
who stepped out at the sound of a bell
with a blue rag in my hand, my hair pulled back
in a straight, unlovely ponytail.
This was before automatic shut-offs
and vapor seals, and once, while filling a tank,
I hit a bubble of trapped air and the gas
backed up, came arcing out of the hole
in a bright gold wave and soaked me—face, breasts,
belly and legs. And I had to hurry
back to the booth, the small employee bathroom
with the broken lock, to change my uniform,
peel the gas-soaked cloth from my skin
and wash myself in the sink.
Light-headed, scrubbed raw, I felt
pure and amazed—the way the amber gas
glazed my flesh, the searing,
subterranean pain of it, how my skin
shimmered and ached, glowed
like rainbowed oil on the pavement.
I was twenty. In a few weeks I would fall,
for the first time, in love, that man waiting
patiently in my future like a red leaf
on the sidewalk, the kind of beauty
that asks to be noticed. How was I to know
it would begin this way: every cell of my body
burning with a dangerous beauty, the air around me
a nimbus of light that would carry me
through the days, how when he found me,
weeks later, he would find me like that,
an ordinary woman who could rise
in flame, all he would have to do
is come close and touch me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cannon Beach

By Diane Wakoski

One morning of early morning sunshine, like a perfect rose frozen
into an ice cube,
made us so grateful, we then loved the mist
which rolled in and blanketed us for days.
When the sun shone, we walked
the beach at dawn
while most people slept, but on the foggy mornings,
we slept too, not even hearing the horns
sounding from the rocks. Two thousand miles away,
I can only pretend to see the Pacific Ocean
no matter how early I rise.
The mist that steams up from this autumn ground
over pumpkins, the dried dinner-plate sunflowers
with bowed heads, the final red tomatoes on the browning
vines, a different beauty. It is as if everyone
in Cannon Beach is sleeping,
while I'm awake, while everyone, everywhere,
different from this landscape, sleeping,
only I awake, not knowing the images in each head;
as we all sleep through each others' lives.

Only a few even try to imagine
what others simultaneously try to perceive,
and then know its futility. An act of faith
lets me believe the Pacific Ocean's still there,
since I now can't see it. That the sun exists,
though the fog entirely covers it today. That in my
sleep I do not lose my identity, or in death,
pass beyond what I now know I am.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In The Baggage Room At Greyhound

By Allen Ginsberg

I.
In the depths of the Greyhound Terminal
sitting dumbly on a baggage truck looking at the sky
waiting for the Los Angeles Express to depart
worrying about eternity over the Post Office roof in
the night-time red downtown heaven
staring through my eyeglasses I realized shuddering
these thoughts were not eternity, nor the poverty
of our lives, irritable baggage clerks,
nor the millions of weeping relatives surrounding the
buses waving goodbye,
nor other millions of the poor rushing around from
city to city to see their loved ones,
nor an indian dead with fright talking to a huge cop
by the Coke machine,
nor this trembling old lady with a cane taking the last
trip of her life,
nor the red-capped cynical porter collecting his quar-
ters and smiling over the smashed baggage,
nor me looking around at the horrible dream,
nor mustached negro Operating Clerk named Spade,
dealing out with his marvelous long hand the
fate of thousands of express packages,
nor fairy Sam in the basement limping from leaden
trunk to trunk,
nor Joe at the counter with his nervous breakdown
smiling cowardly at the customers,
nor the grayish-green whale's stomach interior loft
where we keep the baggage in hideous racks,
hundreds of suitcases full of tragedy rocking back and
forth waiting to be opened,
nor the baggage that's lost, nor damaged handles,
nameplates vanished, busted wires & broken
ropes, whole trunks exploding on the concrete
floor,
nor seabags emptied into the night in the final
warehouse.

II.
Yet Spade reminded me of Angel, unloading a bus,
dressed in blue overalls black face official Angel's work-
man cap,
pushing with his belly a huge tin horse piled high with
black baggage,
looking up as he passed the yellow light bulb of the loft
and holding high on his arm an iron shepherd's crook.

III.
It was the racks, I realized, sitting myself on top of
them now as is my wont at lunchtime to rest
my tired foot,
it was the racks, great wooden shelves and stanchions
posts and beams assembled floor to roof jumbled
with baggage,
--the Japanese white metal postwar trunk gaudily
flowered & headed for Fort Bragg,
one Mexican green paper package in purple rope
adorned with names for Nogales,
hundreds of radiators all at once for Eureka,
crates of Hawaiian underwear,
rolls of posters scattered over the Peninsula, nuts to
Sacramento,
one human eye for Napa,
an aluminum box of human blood for Stockton
and a little red package of teeth for Calistoga-
it was the racks and these on the racks I saw naked
in electric light the night before I quit,
the racks were created to hang our possessions, to keep
us together, a temporary shift in space,
God's only way of building the rickety structure of
Time,
to hold the bags to send on the roads, to carry our
luggage from place to place
looking for a bus to ride us back home to Eternity
where the heart was left and farewell tears
began.

IV.
A swarm of baggage sitting by the counter as the trans-
continental bus pulls in.
The clock registering 12:15 A.M., May 9, 1956, the
second hand moving forward, red.
Getting ready to load my last bus.-Farewell, Walnut
Creek Richmond Vallejo Portland Pacific
Highway
Fleet-footed Quicksilver, God of transience.
One last package sits lone at midnight sticking up out
of the Coast rack high as the dusty fluorescent
light.

The wage they pay us is too low to live on. Tragedy
reduced to numbers.
This for the poor shepherds. I am a communist.
Farewell ye Greyhound where I suffered so much,
hurt my knee and scraped my hand and built
my pectoral muscles big as a vagina.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why God Created Eve

By Hal Sirowitz

In the Bible God created
a companion for Adam --
Eve -- to keep Adam from being
lonely, Father said. If it was
such a great idea how come
He didn’t create one for Himself?
That was what went through my mind
while your mother was yelling at me
for not putting the pickles back
into the refrigerator. But they were
already sour. Letting them stay
at room temperature could not have
made them taste worse. Later,
when she served the cake, & there
wasn’t enough for everyone & she
didn’t give herself any I was ready
to forgive her until she started
to eat mine. It made me think
God may have created Eve
for the same reason the TV
needed to be invented -- He
wanted to make sure He always
had something entertaining to watch.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Prayer for Healing

Prayer for Healing
By Debbie Friedman

Mi she-bei-rach a-vo-tei-nu
M' kor ha-bra-cha l' i-mo-tei-nu
May the source of strength
Who blessed the ones before us
Help us find the courage
To make our lives a blessing
And let us say, Amen

Mi she-bei-rach i-mo-tei-nu
M'kor ha-bra-ha l'a-vo-tei-nu
Bless those in need of healing
with r'fu-a sh'lei'ma
The renewal of body
The renewal of spirit
And let us say, Amen

Thursday, August 6, 2009

More About People

By Ogden Nash

When people aren't asking questions
They're making suggestions
And when they're not doing one of those
They're either looking over your shoulder or stepping on your toes
And then as if that weren't enough to annoy you
They employ you.
Anybody at leisure
Incurs everybody's displeasure.
It seems to be very irking
To people at work to see other people not working,
So they tell you that work is wonderful medicine,
Just look at Firestone and Ford and Edison,
And they lecture you till they're out of breath or something
And then if you don't succumb they starve you to death or something.
All of which results in a nasty quirk:
That if you don't want to work you have to work to earn enough extra
money so that you won't have to work.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Drunk as Drunk

By Pablo Neruda

Drunk as drunk on turpentine
From your open kisses,
Your wet body wedged
Between my wet body and the strake
Of our boat that is made of flowers,
Feasted, we guide it - our fingers
Like tallows adorned with yellow metal -
Over the sky's hot rim,
The day's last breath in our sails.

Pinned by the sun between solstice
And equinox, drowsy and tangled together
We drifted for months and woke
With the bitter taste of land on our lips,
Eyelids all sticky, and we longed for lime
And the sound of a rope
Lowering a bucket down its well. Then,
We came by night to the Fortunate Isles,
And lay like fish
Under the net of our kisses.


Translated from the Spanish by Christopher Logue

Sunday, August 2, 2009

This Is a Photograph of Me

By Margaret Atwood

It was taken some time ago.
At first it seems to be
a smeared
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;

then, as you scan
it, you see in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.

In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.

(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.

I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.

It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion

but if you look long enough,
eventually
you will be able to see me.)

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