Sunday, June 30, 2013

Two Sunflowers Move into the Yellow Room

By Nancy Willard

 “Ah, William, we’re weary of weather,”
said the sunflowers, shining with dew.
“Our traveling habits have tired us.
Can you give us a room with a view?”

They arranged themselves at the window
and counted the steps of the sun,
and they both took root in the carpet
where the topaz tortoises run.

Friday, June 28, 2013

For Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, Whose Spirit Is Present Here and in the Dappled Stars

(For we remember the story and must tell it again so we may all live)

By Joy Harjo

Beneath a sky blurred with mist and wind,
I am amazed as I watch the violet
heads of crocuses erupt from the stiff earth
after dying for a season,
as I have watched my own dark head
appear each morning after entering
the next world to come back to this one,
It is the way in the natural world to understand the place
the ghost dancers named
after the heart breaking destruction.
Anna Mae,
everything and nothing changes.
You are the shimmering young woman
who found her voice,
when you were warned to be silent, or have your body cut away
from you like an elegant weed.
You are the one whose spirit is present in the dappled stars.
(They prance and lope like colored horses who stay with us
through the streets of these steely cities. And I have seen them
nuzzling the frozen bodies of tattered drunks
on the corner.)
This morning when the last star is dimming
and the busses grind toward
the middle of the city, I know it is ten years since they buried you
the second time in Lakota, a language that could
free you.
I heard about it in Oklahoma, or New Mexico,
how the wind howled and pulled everything down
in righteous anger.
(It was the women who told me) and we understood wordlessly
the ripe meaning of your murder.
As I understand ten years later after the slow changing
of the seasons
that we have just begun to touch
the dazzling whirlwind of our anger,
we have just begun to perceive the amazed world the ghost dancers
crazily, beautifully.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Negotiations with a Volcano

By Naomi Shihab Nye

We will call you "Agua" like the rivers and cool jugs.
We will persuade the clouds to nestle around your neck
so you may sleep late.
We would be happy if you slept forever.
We will tend the slopes we plant, singing the songs
our grandfathers taught us before we inherited their fear.
We will try not to argue among ourselves.
When the widow demands extra flour, we will provide it,
remembering the smell of incense on the day of our Lord.

Please think of us as we are, tiny, with skins that burn easily.
Please notice how we have watered the shrubs around our houses
and transplanted the peppers into neat tin cans.
Forgive any anger we feel toward the earth,
when the rains do not come, or they come too much,
and swallow our corn.
It is not easy to be this small and live in your shadow.

Often while we are eating our evening meal
you cross our rooms like a thief,
touching first the radio and then the loom.
Later our dreams begin catching fire around the edges,
they burn like paper, we wake with our hands full of ash.

How can we live like this?
We need to wake and find our shelves intact,
our children slumbering in their quilts.
We need dreams the shape of lakes,
with mornings in them thick as fish.
Shade us while we cast and hook—
but nothing else, nothing else.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Poem for the Youth Voter

By Jay Smooth

OK people
We really got our sights on it
Bottom of the ninth, two outs and two strikes on it
But we need to keep focused and be patient
Do not get complacent
Stop your celebration
Because if this game is fair they wouldn't call it politics
And the mavericks can still pull off a lot of tricks
This other team is well known to cheat
So do you really think history won't repeat
at the sweetest moment
as we were just about the seal the deal
so close that we can feel it
That's when they always try to steal it.
History shows that young voters almost never turn out
They're hoping that all your passion's about to burn out.
They're hoping you believe the hype and think that it's all over
and spend election day on the sofa watching  Oprah.
So before you start letting your vision getting clouded
listen to this and think really hard about it:
Imagine that one day your kids want to ask you
where were you
when in this moment in history passed.
And we have to tell our daughters
and all our sons
we stayed home on the day Obama almost won.
Imagine telling them we had it in our hands
we could taste it, after all those years
our ancestors chased it
Finally we had one chance and it was wasted
because you spend the day playing Madden in the basement.
How do you think you're going to feel getting stuck in that role?
You're going to feel like a motherfucking asshole.
So let's make a plan
that we won't let them try and knock it out of our hands like Leon Lett
We're not beyond threats
They could still pull a fast one
The only poll that counts is the last one
Let's show the clowns we can last twelve rounds
Stand firm, hold it down
till the last bell sounds
So when that day comes and you address your kids
your can look down with pride and say
yes we did.

A video of this poem can be found here.


Monday, June 24, 2013

The Major Subjects

By Lawrence Raab

Death is easier
than love. And true feeling, as someone said,
leaves no memory. Or else memory
replaces the past, which we know
never promised to be true.

Consider the sea cucumber:
when attacked it divides, sacrificing half
so that half
won't get eaten. Can the part left undevoured
figure out what to do?

The natural world is always instructive,
mysterious as well, but often
hard to praise. Love
is also difficult—the way it slides into
so many other subjects,

like murder, deceit,
and the moon. As my mother used to say
about anything
we couldn't find: If it had been
a snake it would have bitten you.

Fellow poets, we must
learn again to copy from nature,
see for ourselves
how steadfastly even its beauty
refuses to care or console.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


By Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars

Monday, June 17, 2013


By R.S. Thomas

My luminary,
my morning and evening
star. My light at noon
when there is no sun
and the sky lowers. My balance
of joy in a world
that has gone off joy's
standard. Yours the face
that young I recognised
as though I had known you
of old. Come, my eyes
said, out into the morning
of a world whose dew
waits for your footprint.
Before a green altar
with the thrush for priest
I took those gossamer
vows that neither the Church
could stale nor the Machine
tarnish, that with the years
have grown hard as flint,
lighter than platinum
on our ringless fingers.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Little Father

By Li-Young Lee

 I buried my father
in the sky.
Since then, the birds
clean and comb him every morning
and pull the blanket up to his chin
every night.

I buried my father underground.
Since then, my ladders
only climb down,
and all the earth has become a house
whose rooms are the hours, whose doors
stand open at evening, receiving
guest after guest.
Sometimes I see past them
to the tables spread for a wedding feast.

I buried my father in my heart.
Now he grows in me, my strange son,
my little root who won’t drink milk,
little pale foot sunk in unheard-of night,
little clock spring newly wet
in the fire, little grape, parent to the future
wine, a son the fruit of his own son,
little father I ransom with my life.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Expensive Thrills

 By Bonnie Lyons

"Think of the thrill,” I said trying to persuade

my two best friends to rob the Chase bank
on 41st Street we skipped past everyday
going to and from North Beach Elementary School.
They don’t have our fingerprints yet and besides
we’re only nine. Even if we get caught, what can they do to us?”
I reasoned. We stole Clark bars, Hershey milk chocolate, and  Milky Ways
from Ligget’s Drugstore instead and made ourselves sick eating the evidence.

I never gave up this crazy plan. I told my sister
that when I too became a grandmother we’d go for it.
Two old ladies with eight grandchildren between us!
If we get caught, we’ll start a book group
for our sister prisoners. What’s so bad about that?”
She laughed  at my absurd idea, of course, and then
it came to me: I cannot risk losing the thrill of holding
my grandson in my arms.  I give up.

Bonnie Lyons is a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.  She has published three books of poems as well as a chapbook, including one collection of poems written from the perspective of the women in the Bible. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

“Do You Have Any Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out?"

By Ron Koertge

Give up sitting dutifully at your desk. Leave
your house or apartment. Go out into the world.
It's all right to carry a notebook but a cheap
one is best, with pages the color of weak tea
and on the front a kitten or a space ship.
Avoid any enclosed space where more than
three people are wearing turtlenecks. Beware
any snow-covered chalet with deer tracks
across the muffled tennis courts.
Not surprisingly, libraries are a good place to write.
And the perfect place in a library is near an aisle
where a child a year or two old is playing as his
mother browses the ranks of the dead.
Often he will pull books from the bottom shelf.
The title, the author's name, the brooding photo
on the flap mean nothing. Red book on black, gray
book on brown, he builds a tower. And the higher
it gets, the wider he grins.
You who asked for advice, listen: When the tower
falls, be like that child. Laugh so loud everybody
in the world frowns and says, "Shhhh."
Then start again.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Hell’s Angel

By Brianna Ireland

Not all angels go to heaven.
Sometimes angels go to hell.
I know this, cuz I watched you slip.
And loaded your pipe as you fell.
I didn’t realize at the time,
How hard you’d hit your head.
His radar tracked her damaged soul,
And lead her to his bed.
But she was young, and vulnerable.
And he was thirty-six.
Heart wrapped in crystal smoke ribbons,
She laid a kiss upon the devil’s lips.
Come, embrace this invitation,
To a wonderland of sin.
I told the devil, “No,”
He held a gun to my head!
Pumped that fire through her veins,
And laughed when she cried,
And all too soon, our dream
Became a real hell-ride.
Escape did come,
But in a blur.
Escape for me,
But not for her.
Sex is now her occupation,
Love is just a game.
The gears, they keep on turning,
But they’re bound to grind away.
And this girl, that I helped ruin,
Still hides the scars beneath her lingerie.

This poem previously appeared in the Register-Guard, after winning first place in the national poetry contest "Words Unlocked."  

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Gulf, 1987

By Deborah Paredez
The day upturned, flooded with sunlight, not
a single cloud. I squint into the glare,
cautious even then of bright emptiness.
We sit under shade, Tía Lucia
showing me how white folks dine, the high life.
I am about to try my first oyster,
Tía spending her winnings from the slots
on a whole dozen, the glistening valves
wet and private as a cheek’s other side,
broken open before us. Don’t be shy.
Take it all in at once. Flesh and sea grit,
sweet meat and brine, a taste I must acquire.
In every split shell, the coast’s silhouette:
bodies floating in what was once their home.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Crown

By Carol Ann Duffy 

The  crown translates a woman to a Queen –
endless gold, circling itself, an O like a well,
fathomless, for the years to drown in – history's bride,
anointed, blessed, for a crowning. One head alone
can know its weight, on throne, in pageantry,
and feel it still, in private space, when it's lifted:
not a hollow thing, but a measuring; no halo,
treasure, but a valuing; decades and duty. Time-gifted,
the crown is old light, journeying from skulls of kings
to living Queen.
                  Its jewels glow, virtues; loyalty's ruby, blood
-deep; sapphire's ice resilience; emerald evergreen;
the shy pearl, humility. My whole life, whether it be long
or short, devoted to your service.
 Not lightly worn.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Watermelon Song

Lyrics by Poi Dog Pondering, music by Frank Orrall
Wishing like a mountain and thinking like the sea
 How it is to feel absolutely free
 (The simplest things so hard to achieve)

 I want to be your watermelon, let me sing into your radio
 Let me be the yeast inside your bread,
 let me be the new thought inside your head

 Here in this room, where the cost of light and heat
 are such a distraction from the things we really need
 Love is everything and everything's a distraction

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


By Karen Alkalay-Gut
“Spit it out Moses,” I tell him impatiently.
“Give me the whole word at once!”
“It isn’t stuttering, you know,”
He says, suddenly clearly.
“Every letter could go, on its own,
Many different ways.”
“I have to be so careful
Not to say something
That those Israelites
Will interpret
In some extreme direction.
“That’s why I needed to get the laws
Etched out for them
In stone.”

Sunday, June 2, 2013

My 71st Year

By Walt Whitman

After threescore and ten
With all their chances, changes, losses, sorrows,
My parents' deaths, the vagaries of my life, the many tearing passions of me, the war of '63 and  '4,
As some old broken soldier, after a long hot wearying march, or as haply after battle,
At twilight, hobbling, answering yet to company roll call, Here, with vital voice
Reporting yet, saluting yet the Officer over all.