Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Praise of Their Divorce

By Tony Hoagland

And when I heard about the divorce of my friends,
I couldn't help but be proud of them,

that man and that woman setting off in different directions,
like pilgrims in a proverb

—him to buy his very own toaster oven,
her seeking a prescription for sleeping pills.

Let us keep in mind the hidden forces
which had struggled underground for years

to push their way to the surface—and that finally did,
cracking the crust, moving the plates of earth apart,

releasing the pent-up energy required
for them to rent their own apartments,

for her to join the softball league for single mothers
for him to read  
George the Giraffe over his speakerphone

at bedtime to the six-year-old.

The bible says, Be fruitful and multiply

but is it not also fruitful to subtract and to divide?
Because if marriage is a kind of womb,

divorce is the being born again;
alimony is the placenta one of them will eat;

loneliness is the name of the wet-nurse;
regret is the elementary school;

endurance is the graduation.
So do not say that they are splattered like dropped lasagna

or dead in the head-on collision of clichés
or nailed on the cross of their competing narratives.

What is taken apart is not utterly demolished.
It is like a great mysterious egg in Kansas

that has cracked and hatched two big bewildered birds.
It is two spaceships coming out of retirement,

flying away from their dead world,
the burning booster rocket of divorce
                                 falling off behind them,

the bystanders pointing at the sky and saying, Look. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Untitled

Not knowing
The name of the tree,
I stood in the flood
of its sweet smell.

It is a bit too cold
To be naked
In this stormy wind
Of February.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Map to the Next World

By Joy Harjo
 
In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map
for those who would climb through the hole in the sky.
 
My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged from the killing fields,
from the bedrooms and the kitchens.
 
For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.
 
The map must be of sand and can't be read by ordinary light.
It must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.
 
In the legend are instructions on the language of the land,
how it was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, as if we were not in it or of it.
 
Take note of the proliferation of supermarkets and malls, the altars of money.
They best describe the detour from grace.
 
Keep track of the errors of our forgetfulness; a fog steals our children while we sleep.
 
Flowers of rage spring up in the depression, the monsters are born there of nuclear anger.
 
Trees of ashes wave good-bye to good-bye and the map appears to disappear.
 
We no longer know the names of the birds here,
how to speak to them by their personal names.
 
Once we knew everything in this lush promise.
 
What I am telling you is real and is printed in a warning on the map.
Our forgetfulness stalks us, walks the earth behind us,
leaving a trail of paper diapers, needles and wasted blood.
 
An imperfect map will have to do little one.
 
The place of entry is the sea of your mother's blood,
your father's small death as he longs to know himself in another.
 
There is no exit.
 
The map can be interpreted through the wall of the intestine --
a spiral on the road of knowledge.
 
You will travel through the membrane of death,
smell cooking from the encampment where our relatives make a feast
of fresh deer meat and corn soup, in the Milky Way.
 
They have never left us; we abandoned them for science.
 
And when you take your next breath as we enter the fifth world there will be no X,
no guide book with words you can carry.
 
You will have to navigate by your mother's voice, renew the song she is singing.
 
Fresh courage glimmers from planets.
 
And lights the map printed with the blood of history,
a map you will have to know by your intention, by the language of suns.
 
When you emerge note the tracks of the monster slayers
where they entered the cities of artificial light and killed what was killing us.
 
You will see red cliffs. They are the heart, contain the ladder.
 
A white deer will come to greet you when the last human climbs from the destruction.
 
Remember the hole of our shame marking the act of abandoning our tribal grounds.
 
We were never perfect.
 
Yet, the journey we make together is perfect on this earth
who was once a star and made the same mistakes as humans.
 
We might make them again, she said.
 
Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.
 
You must make your own map.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Her Toolbox

By Martín Espada
For Katherine Gilbert-Espada

The city was new, so new
that she once bought
a set of knives
from the trunk of a car
and saw them rust
after the first rinsing.
She gathered with the tourists
at the marketplace of city souvenirs.
Still, she was a carpenter
for the community center
on Dorchester Avenue,
where men with baseball bats
chased the new immigrants
and even the liberals
rolled up their windows
at a red light.

The car on Dorchester Avenue
trailed behind her one night
as she walked to the subway.
The man talked to her
while he steered, kept taunting
when the car lurched
onto the sidewalk,
trapped her in a triangle
of brick and fender.
He knew her chest was  throbbing,
that was the reason he throbbed too,
stepped from the car.

But the carpenter
unlocked her toolbox
and raised a hammer up
as if a nail protruded
from between his eyebrows,
ready to spike his balsawood forehead.
Oh, the hands like startled pigeons
flying across his face
as he backpedaled to the car
and rolled his window shut.

After the rusting discount knives,
the costly city souvenirs,
the men who gripped the bat
or the steering wheel
to keep her from trembling,
she swung her toolbox walking
down Dorchester Avenue.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quaker Meeting, The Sixties

By Robin Becker

Seeing my friend’s son in his broad-brimmed hat
and suspenders, I think of the Quakers
who lectured us on nonviolent social action
every week when I was a child. In the classrooms
we listened to those who would not take up arms,
who objected, who had accepted alternative
service in distant work camps and showed
slides of hospitals they helped to build.
On Wednesdays, in Meeting for Worship,
when someone rose to speak,
all the energy in the room
flew inside her mouth, empowering her to tell
what she had seen on her brief
encounter with the divine: sometimes, a parable,
a riddle, a kindness. The fall that we were seventeen,
we scuffed our loafers on the gravelly path
from the Meetinghouse, while maple and elm
leaves sailed around our shoulders   
like tiny envelopes, our futures sealed inside.
Despite the war in Vietnam, I felt safer
than I ever would again. Perhaps
those aged, protective trees had cast a spell
on us, or maybe the nonviolent Quaker God
had set up a kingdom right there—
suburban Philadelphia. Looking back, I see how
good deeds and thoughts climbed with us to the attic
room for Latin, descended to the gym for sports,
where we hung from the praiseworthy scaffolds
of righteous behavior. We prepared to leave
for college, armed with the language of the American
Friends and the memories of Thanksgiving
dinners we’d cooked for the unfortunates:
borrowing our parents’ cars to drive
downtown to the drop-off point, racing back
to play our last field hockey match. Grim center forwards
shook hands before the whistle, the half-backs’
knee-pads strapped on tight; one varsity team vanquished another.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Butter

By Elizabeth Alexander

My mother loves butter more than I do,
more than anyone. She pulls chunks off
the stick and eats it plain, explaining
cream spun around into butter! Growing up
we ate turkey cutlets sauteed in lemon
and butter, butter and cheese on green noodles,
butter melting in small pools in the hearts
of Yorkshire puddings, butter better
than gravy staining white rice yellow,
butter glazing corn in slipping squares,
butter the lava in white volcanoes
of hominy grits, butter softening
in a white bowl to be creamed with white
sugar, butter disappearing into
whipped sweet potatoes, with pineapple,
butter melted and curdy to pour
over pancakes, butter licked off the plate
with warm Alaga syrup. When I picture
the good old days I am grinning greasy
with my brother, having watched the tiger
chase his tail and turn to butter. We are
Mumbo and Jumbo’s children despite   
historical revision, despite
our parent’s efforts, glowing from the inside
out, one hundred megawatts of butter.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mother to Son

By Langston Hughes

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
Bare.
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nurture

By Maxine Kumin

From a documentary on marsupials I learn
that a pillowcase makes a fine
substitute pouch for an orphaned kangaroo.

I am drawn to such dramas of animal rescue.
They are warm in the throat. I suffer, the critic proclaims,
from an overabundance of maternal genes.

Bring me your fallen fledgling, your bummer lamb,

lead the abused, the starvelings, into my barn.
Advise the hunted deer to leap into my corn.

And had there been a wild child—
filthy and fierce as a ferret, he is called
in one nineteenth-century account—

a wild child to love, it is safe to assume,
given my fireside inked with paw prints,
there would have been room.

Think of the language we two, same and not-same,
might have constructed from sign,
scratch, grimace, grunt, vowel:

Laughter our first noun, and our long verb, howl.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fragile

By Eve Lyons

Ever have one of those days
when the Apocalypse seemed imminent?
Two trains collide, and trapping one driver
until her death. A cop opens fire
on a man in Boston Common
who had only a fake gun on him.
A crane collapses in New York City
killing several people.
You wonder what will happen tomorrow.
The Spurs won't still be playing,
and that's affecting your mood
more than it should. Will the Red Sox
ever win on the road again?
Will the sun be shining? Will your
dinner guests back out
this week as well?
Will the tests come back benign
or will more treatment be needed?
So much uncertainty
So much tragedy
Makes you feel fragile
Makes you feel needy
Makes you feel blessed.

Published in Barbaric Yawp, November 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Psalm III

By Allen Ginsberg


To God: to illuminate all men. Beginning with Skid Road.
Let Occidental and Washington be transformed into a higher place, the plaza of eternity.
Illuminate the welders in shipyards with the brilliance of their torches.
Let the crane operator lift up his arm for joy.
Let elevators creak and speak, ascending and descending in awe.
Let the mercy of the flower’s direction beckon in the eye.
Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose in straightness — to seek the light.
Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose in crookedness — to seek the light.
Let the crookedness and straightness bespeak the light.
Let Puget Sound be a blast of light.
I feed on your Name like a cockroach on a crumb — this cockroach is holy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Certain Kind of Holy Men

By Alden Nowlan

Not every wino is a Holy Man.
Oh, but some of them are.
I love those who've learned
to sit comfortably
for long periods with their hams
pressed against their calves,
outdoors,
with a wall for a back-rest,
contentedly saying nothing.
These move about only when
necessary,
on foot, and almost always
in pairs.
I think of them as oblates.
Christ's blood is in their veins
or they thirst for it.
They have looked into the eyes
of God,
unprotected by smoked glass.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Afternoon

By Dorothy Parker

When I am old, and comforted,
And done with this desire,
With Memory to share my bed
And Peace to share my fire,

I'll comb my hair in scalloped bands
Beneath my laundered cap,
And watch my cool and fragile hands
Lie light upon my lap.

And I will have a sprigged gown
With lace to kiss my throat;
I'll draw my curtain to the town,
And hum a purring note.

And I'll forget the way of tears,
And rock, and stir my tea.
But oh, I wish those blessed years
Were further than they be!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Gift Outright

By Robert Frost

The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Continuities

By Walt Whitman

Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost,
No birth, identity, form—no object of the world.
Nor life, nor force, nor any visible thing;
Appearance must not foil, nor shifted sphere confuse thy brain.
Ample are time and space—ample the fields of Nature.
The body, sluggish, aged, cold—the embers left from earlier fires,
The light in the eye grown dim, shall duly flame again;
The sun now low in the west rises for mornings and for noons continual;
To frozen clods ever the spring's invisible law returns,
With grass and flowers and summer fruits and corn.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Questions

By Harvey Shapiro

The idiot sound of someone's stereo
in the apartment below. The bass thudding
like something caught in a trap.
People live in that racket the way I live
with my questions, the things I don't know.
For example, an image of the successful life,
or what is the good, or how can I get
from here to where I want to be, and where is that.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Ghazal of What Hurt

By Peter Cole

Pain froze you, for years—and fear—leaving scars.
But now, as though miraculously, it seems, here you are

walking easily across the ground, and into town
as though you were floating on air, which in part you are,

or riding a wave of what feels like the world's good will—
though helped along by something foreign and older than you are

and yet much younger too, inside you, and so palpable
an X-ray, you're sure, would show it, within the body you are,

not all that far beneath the skin, and even in
some bones. Making you wonder: Are you what you are—

with all that isn't actually you having flowed
through and settled in you, and made you what you are?

The pain was never replaced, nor was it quite erased.
It's memory now—so you know just how lucky you are.

You didn't always. Were you then? And where's the fear?
Inside your words, like an engine? The car you are?!

Face it, friend, you most exist when you're driven
away, or on—by forms and forces greater than you are.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Five Tasks Taught by Hospice Nurses

By Patrick Clary To my brother

1. Say Goodbye
You called me at work to ask for a loan
And said goodbye as sweetly as if I'd said yes.
I was unhappy, and probably rude.
It was the last time we talked.

2. Express Forgiveness
I forgive you for stepping over the edge,
Wearing a roofer's safety harness
Clipped stylishly to nothing,
Momentary angel over Arizona.

When you were seven
You flew the swing set outside
Our Chilean house through an earthquake
As walls and ceilings collapsed into themselves.
"More, make it do that again!"
Your life was not as short as I feared
Nor as long as I hoped.

3. Request Forgiveness
Forgive me for not lending you the money
To buy that motorcycle,
For not admiring your poetry,
For never taking a photograph of you with my sons.
Forgive me for not wrestling with you into more
Sunsets the summer before I was drafted.
Forgive me for being your imitation angel,
For leaving you with that elephant in the living room.
Forgive me for living.

4. Affirm Affection
I love you
For being obvious about loving me
When I was fifteen and
Thought I couldn't bear to be loved.
You were too young to know better.
You were so alive,
Your death seemed impossible-
If you could die everyone would.

5. Express Gratitude
Thank you for giving me back
My lost family and Montana,
Where we scattered your ashes
According to your instructions:
Up Big Creek Canyon
And on the hundred-year
Flood plain of the Bitterroot.
West Yellowstone burned all the week
Of your death, frosting windshields white in July.
Now, when I visit - and I visit often - I do work I love,
While I stay in a lodge built ten years ago
Of first-growth timber
Salvaged from that fire.

Now I see: living is a kind of slow burning,
And love is what we salvage from the fire.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Poison Tree

By William Blake

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears,
And I sunned it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright,
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,--

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning, glad, I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Friday, November 5, 2010

We Are Those People

By Robinson Jeffers

I have abhorred the wars and despised the liars, laughed at the frightened
And forecast victory; never one moment's doubt.
But now not far, over the backs of some crawling years, the next
Great war's column of dust and fire writhes
Up the sides of the sky: it becomes clear that we too may suffer
What others have, the brutal horror of defeat—
Or if not in the next, then in the next—therefore watch Germany
And read the future. We wish, of course, that our women
Would die like biting rats in the cellars, our men like wolves on the mountain:
It will not be so. Our men will curse, cringe, obey;
Our women uncover themselves to the grinning victors for bits of chocolate

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Enough

By Jeffrey Harrison

It's a gift, this cloudless November morning
warm enough for you to walk without a jacket
along your favorite path. The rhythmic shushing
of your feet through fallen leaves should be
enough to quiet the mind, so it surprises you
when you catch yourself telling off your boss
for a decade of accumulated injustices,
all the things you've never said circling inside you.

It's the rising wind that pulls you out of it,
and you look up to see a cloud of leaves
swirling in sunlight, flickering against the blue
and rising above the treetops, as if the whole day
were sighing, Let it go, let it go,
for this moment at least, let it all go.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why I Voted the Socialist Ticket

By Vachel Lindsay

I am unjust, but I can strive for justice.
My life’s unkind, but I can vote for kindness.
I, the unloving, say life should be lovely.
I, that am blind, cry out against my blindness.

Man is a curious brute — he pets his fancies —
Fighting mankind, to win sweet luxury.
So he will be, tho’ law be clear as crystal,
Tho’ all men plan to live in harmony.

Come, let us vote against our human nature,
Crying to God in all the polling places
To heal our everlasting sinfulness
And make us sages with transfigured faces.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Autumn Movement

by Grace Paley

1.
What is sometimes called a
tongue of flame
or an arm extended burning
is only the long
red and orange branch of
a green maple
in early September reaching
into the greenest field
out of the green woods at the
edge of which the birch trees
appear a little tattered tired
of sustaining delicacy
all through the hot summer re-
minding everyone (in
our family) of a Russian
song a story
by Chekhov or my father


2.
What is sometimes called a
tongue of flame
or an arm extended burning
is only the long
red and orange branch of
a green maple
in early September reaching
into the greenest field
out of the green woods at the
edge of which the birch trees
appear a little tattered tired
of sustaining delicacy
all through the hot summer re-
minding everyone (in
our family) of a Russian
song a story by
Chekhov or my father on
his own lawn standing
beside his own wood in
the United States of
America saying (in Russian)
this birch is a lovely
tree but among the others
somehow superficial.