Thursday, December 30, 2010

On Quitting

By Edward Albert Guest

How much grit do you think you’ve got?
Can you quit a thing that you like a lot?
You may talk of pluck; it’s an easy word,
And where’er you go it is often heard;
But can you tell to a jot or guess
Just how much courage you now possess?

You may stand to trouble and keep your grin,
But have you tackled self-discipline?
Have you ever issued commands to you
To quit the things that you like to do,
And then, when tempted and sorely swayed,
Those rigid orders have you obeyed?

Don’t boast of your grit till you’ve tried it out,
Nor prate to men of your courage stout,
For it’s easy enough to retain a grin
In the face of a fight there’s a chance to win,
But the sort of grit that is good to own
Is the stuff you need when you’re all alone.

How much grit do you think you’ve got?
Can you turn from joys that you like a lot?
Have you ever tested yourself to know
How far with yourself your will can go?
If you want to know if you have grit,
Just pick out a joy that you like, and quit.

It’s bully sport and it’s open fight;
It will keep you busy both day and night;
For the toughest kind of a game you’ll find
Is to make your body obey your mind.
And you never will know what is meant by grit
Unless there’s something you’ve tried to quit.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Taking Down the Tree

By Jane Kenyon

"Give me some light!" cries Hamlet's
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. "Light! Light!" cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it's dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.

The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother's childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.

With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcases increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.

By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it's darkness
we're having, let it be extravagant.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Five Ways To Kill A Man

By Andre Breton

There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
You can make him carry a plank of wood
to the top of a hill and nail him to it. To do this
properly you require a crowd of people
wearing sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak
to dissect, a sponge, some vinegar and one
man to hammer the nails home.

Or you can take a length of steel,
shaped and chased in a traditional way,
and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears.
But for this you need white horses,
English trees, men with bows and arrows,
at least two flags, a prince, and a
castle to hold your banquet in.

Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind
allows, blow gas at him. But then you need
a mile of mud sliced through with ditches,
not to mention black boots, bomb craters,
more mud, a plague of rats, a dozen songs
and some round hats made of steel.

In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly
miles above your victim and dispose of him by
pressing one small switch. All you then
require is an ocean to separate you, two
systems of government, a nation's scientists,
several factories, a psychopath and
land that no-one needs for several years.

These are, as I began, cumbersome ways
to kill a man. Simpler, direct, and much more neat
is to see that he is living somewhere in the middle
of the twentieth century, and leave him there.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dragon’s Teeth

By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

A headless man is running
down the street
He is carrying his head
in his hands
A woman runs after him
She has his heart
in her hands
The bombs keep falling
sowing hate
And they keep running
down the streets
Not the same two people
but thousands of others & brothers
All running
from the bombs that keep falling
sowing pure hate
And for every bomb that's dropped
up spring a thousand Bin Ladens
a thousand new terrorists
Like dragon's teeth sown
From which armed warriors sprang up
Crying for blood
As the smart bombs sowing hate
Keep falling and falling and falling

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Breakfast

By Minnie Bruce Pratt

Rush hour, and the short order cook lobs breakfast
sandwiches, silverfoil softballs, up and down the line.
We stand until someone says, Yes? The next person behind
breathes hungrily. The cashier's hands never stop. He shouts:
Where's my double double? We help. We eliminate all verbs.
The superfluous want, need, give they already know. Nothing's left
but stay or go, and a few things like bread. No one can stay long,
not even the stolid man in blue-hooded sweats, head down, eating,
his work boots powdered with cement dust like snow that never melts.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Hymn to Childhood

By Li-Young Lee

Childhood? Which childhood?
The one that didn’t last?
The one in which you learned to be afraid
of the boarded-up well in the backyard
and the ladder in the attic?

The one presided over by armed men
in ill-fitting uniforms
strolling the streets and alleys,
while loudspeakers declared a new era,
and the house around you grew bigger,
the rooms farther apart, with more and more
people missing?

The photographs whispered to each other
from their frames in the hallway.
The cooking pots said your name
each time you walked past the kitchen.

And you pretended to be dead with your sister
in games of rescue and abandonment.
You learned to lie still so long
the world seemed a play you viewed from the muffled
safety of a wing. Look! In
run the servants screaming, the soldiers shouting,
turning over the furniture,
smashing your mother’s china.

Don’t fall asleep.
Each act opens with your mother
reading a letter that makes her weep.
Each act closes with your father fallen
into the hands of Pharaoh.

Which childhood? The one that never ends? O you,
still a child, and slow to grow.
Still talking to God and thinking the snow
falling is the sound of God listening,
and winter is the high-ceilinged house
where God measures with one eye
an ocean wave in octaves and minutes,
and counts on many fingers
all the ways a child learns to say Me.

Which childhood?
The one from which you’ll never escape? You,
so slow to know
what you know and don’t know.
Still thinking you hear low song
in the wind in the eaves,
story in your breathing,
grief in the heard dove at evening,
and plentitude in the unseen bird
tolling at morning. Still slow to tell
memory from imagination, heaven
from here and now,
hell from here and now,
death from childhood, and both of them
from dreaming.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wildfire

By Tasha Poslaniec

Driving down the bright highway
we pass into a cool shadow
cast by a hill
This catches me just enough
that I glance over
and witness an orange explosion by the fence line
The hill is burning with poppies
We pass back into the sunlight
and my eyes resume their course
of road
and sky

Published by Cherry Blossom Review in December 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sometimes A Man Comes Back From War

like shadow –
himself, but different.
Some kind of science fiction,
Invasion of The Body Snatchers.

Same body, sometimes.
Same eyes – used up,
inkwells that can't be refilled.

His fingers know how to touch wire
and explode, or –
sometimes he comes back,

war stuck to his shoes,
he drags it inside,
right over the welcome mat.

Sometimes his family
huddles like sheep.
Eyes shut so tight

it aches.
We bought him a war,
he sometimes comes back

all shadow,
footsteps like gunfire
up the hall, down the hall.

By Rae Rose

Previously published in Protestpoems, December 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

By W.B. Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Masters of War

By Bob Dylan

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

Thursday, December 16, 2010

40 Love Letters

By Jeanann Verlee

Dear Dennis,
I still think of you.

Dear Andre,
I saw you kiss her.
I haven’t looked back.

Dear Patrick,
You’re just too young.

Dear Eric,
I said horrible things about
you.
Your teeth are fine,
it’s the rest of you I don’t
like.

Dear Greg,
Thank you for the poem, for
every single scar.

Dear William,
I love you, simple.
I like that we will never be we.

Dear Jay,
The bruises fell off
eventually.

Dear Michael,
I’ll never be enough to fill
the shoes
that will one day stand at
your side.

Dear Ben,
I did read your letters.
All of them.

Dear Freeman,
I’ll never stop looking over
my shoulder,
boots laced, ready to run.

Dear Jon,
I’ll always love you.
You are all there ever was.

Dear Derek,
There was no one thing,
your everything is
impossible.

Dear Eddie,
We are refracting magnets.
We will battle this to the
end.

Dear Dennis,
I still think of you.

Dear Ryan,
I love you, simple.
Sex under the streetlight was
a delicious accident.

Dear Kevin,
Your kiss came too late.
My lips were already dancing
in the other room with Jon.

Dear Ethan,
No.

Dear Joseph,
I said you were too pretty.
They said to try it anyway.
They are fools.

Dear Avery,
You are the definition of unrequited.

Dear Skippy,
I’m sorry about the whiskey
and the tampon.
I’m sorry I never called you.

Dear Nate,
Until you mocked my smile, I
was yours.

Dear Marc,
I like your wife too much.
Is your brother still single?

Dear Mitch,
You were my biggest mistake.
I’m sure that only makes your
smile more sinister.

Dear Allen,
While you poured Guinness for
Patrick,
I pictured you bending me
over the bar.

Dear Graham,
I’d have swallowed that
bullet.

Dear Miguel,
You said a man never forgets
his first redhead.
What color are my eyes?

Dear Dennis,
I still think of you.

Dear Francis,
I’d have broken you in half.

Dear Chris,
I’m sorry I stalked you.
I’d try to forget me, too.

Dear Dex,
I can’t be with you again.
Just accept it.

Dear Dr. Matthews,
No.
I’ll have you fired.
Again.

Dear Aiden,
I wrote a poem about you.
It’s everyone’s favorite.
I find it trite.

Dear Logan,
I think I finally stopped
wanting you.

Dear Cynthia,
I was drunk.
I thought you were, too.

Dear Ricky,
Maybe it was the red dress
or because I was fifteen.
Your brother married my
mother
on the same day I first
touched your cock.
Maybe you’re still a pervert.
Call me.

Dear Jeff,
I was your biggest mistake.

Dear Robert,
You are more than beer and
vomit.
You are more than I could
ever put into a poem.

Dear Dennis,
I still think of you.

Dear Dennis,
I keep your photos in a box.
Each
one, still in its frame.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sugar and Spice

By Laura Gail Grohe

Nice girls kill themselves
rather than their enemies.

Nice girls prefer to swallow the poison themselves
rather than watch their rapists choke on their own bile.

Nice girls know how to make polite conversation
while walking on piles of broken glass,
feet bloodied, but not a hair out of place.
Watch a nice girl, with her lovely measured steps,
her nails are trimmed and perhaps painted pink (never red).
She wears her mother’s brooch over her heart
like a medal for a war she never won nor lost.
Casualties have no sides.

First published by Protest Poems in December 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Song of the Open Road

By Ogden Nash

I think that I shall never see
A billboard as lovely as a tree.
Perhaps unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beauty is the Beast

By Amy Edgington

We are told it lies
no deeper than a woman's skin.
We are told it lives
in someone else's eye.
We starve ourselves and pad our breasts
bleach or burn our skins
curl or straighten our hair
because beauty must be domesticated -
wolves don't worry about their appearance;
there is no Miss Bear contest.

But underneath the clothes
and the attitudes that cage us
something paces, wanting out.
A wild woman longs to strut,
baring every scar and crease and bulge:
She knows her pack would not judge
but read what life has written on her.
They would delight to see how the spirit
spills through her frayed skin,
shining, like electric fur.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

temporary compound

By V. Ji

together
we are a temporary compound
the only instance we might be found
in relationship
is in the dark
in the cracks
in the fault line that began forming
in your concrete immovable life.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Experience

By Carrie Fountain

When I think of everything I’ve wanted
I feel sick. There was this one night in winter
when Jennifer Scanlon and I were driven out
to the desert to be the only girls there
when the boys got drunk and chose
the weakest among themselves to beat the living
shit out of again and again while the night
continued in its airy way to say nothing. Sure, I wanted
to believe violence was a little bell you could ring
and get what you wanted. It seemed to work for those
boys, who’d brought strict order to the evening
using nothing but a few enthusiastic muscles.
Even when he’d begun bleeding from his nose, the boy
stayed. It was an initiation. That’s what he believed.
Thank God time keeps erasing everything in this steady,
impeccable way. Now it’s like I never lived
that life, never had to, sitting on a tailgate
while Jennifer asked for advice on things she’d already done,
watching the stars ferment above, adoring whatever it was
that allowed those boys to throw themselves fists-first
at the world, yell every profanity ever made
into the open ear of the universe. I believed then
that if only they’d get quiet enough, we’d hear
the universe calling back, telling us what to do next.
Of course, if we’d been quiet, we would’ve heard
nothing. And that silence, too, would’ve ruined us.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid

By William Stafford

There is a country to cross you will
find in the corner of your eye, in
the quick slip of your foot--air far
down, a snap that might have caught.
And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing
voice that finds its way by being
afraid. That country is there, for us,
carried as it is crossed. What you fear
will not go away: it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
That's the world, and we all live there.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Honorary Jew

By John Repp

The first year, I grated potatoes, chopped onions
& watched. The second year, I fed all but the eggs

into the machine & said I'll do the latkes & did,
my pile of crisp delights borne to the feast by the wife

who baffled me, our books closed, banter hushed,
money useless in the apartment—house, my in-laws called it,

new-wave thump at one end, ganja reek at the other—
in which she'd knelt to tell the no one who listened

no more no no more no a three-year-old mouthing
the essential prayer. The uncle made rich by a song

stacked three & dug in, talking critics & Koch—
everyone crunching now, slathering applesauce, slurping tea—

talking Rabin & Mehitabel, radio & Durrell,
how a song is a poem or it isn't a song

& vice-versa. Done, he pointed a greasy finger
at me, said You can't be a goy. You—I say it

for all to hear—are an honorary Jew!
which, impossible dream, my latkes lived up to

for five more years. Then the wailing.
Then the dust.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Año Nuevo, California

By Eve Lyons

Elephant seals come here twice a year,
once to shed their skins and
once to ensure their legacy.
The rest of the year they roam the oceans alone.
It's not a bad life,
being on their own.
From the first days as a pup
they must learn to swim and
follow the ones who look like
they'll survive forever.
No one teaches them this.
Harbor seals and sea lions play and joke around –
they understand the need for connection.
They don't defy nature
like elephant seals do.
It's not a bad life,
if they can stand the solitude,
the long trip up to the Aleutian Islands
in search of food to break their fast.
It's not a bad life,
this skin they shed.

Published in Concho River Review, December 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Just Once

By Anne Sexton

Just once, I knew what life was for.
In Boston, quite suddenly, I understood;
walked there along the Charles River,
watched the lights copying themselves,
all neoned and strobe-hearted, opening
their mouths as wide as opera singers;
counted the stars, my little campaigners,
my scar daisies, and knew that I walked my love
on the night green side of it and cried
my heart to the eastbound cars and cried
my heart to the westbound cars and took
my truth across a small humped bridge
and hurried my truth, the charm of it, home
and hoarded these constants into morning
only to find them gone.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Blessed is the match

By Hannah Senesh 

A blessing on the match that was consumed and kindled flames.
A blessing on the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart.
A blessing on the hearts that know to stop for the sake of honor.
A blessing on the match that was consumed and kindled flames.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Like the Inner Wall of a House

By Yehuda Amichai

Like the inner wall of a house
that after wars and destruction becomes
an outer one –
that’s how I found myself suddenly,
too soon in life. I’ve almost forgotten what it means
to be inside. It no longer hurts;
I no longer love. Far or near –
they’re both very far from me,
equally far.
I’d never imagined what happens to colors.
The same as with human beings: a bright blue drowses
inside the memory of dark blue and night,
a paleness sighs
out of a crimson dream. A breeze
carries odors from far away
but itself has no odor. The leaves of the squill die
long before its white flower,
which never knows
the greenness of spring and dark love.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. Now I understand
what it means to lift up the eyes, what a heavy burden
it is. But these violent longings, this pain of
never-again-to-be-inside.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Coming of Light

By Mark Strand

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow's dust flares into breath.

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