Wednesday, December 06, 2006

L'Chaim by Gerald Stern

There goes that toast again, four chipped
glasses full of some kind of ruby held up
to the sun this time, death crumbs falling and rising
like dust-motes, fish eggs, bubbles, here's to you bubbles,
here's to Mardi Gras, here's to the apple tree
pinned against my fence, here's to reproach
here's to doing it to music, here's to fog,
and here's to fog again, and life dividing
inside the fog; oh when it dissipates
let's make a circle; here's to the baby hiding
inside his clothes, here's to his being
alive without me, here's to the mountain again,
for what the hell, I might as well be on the mountain,
here's to delectables, free health care, love, popcorn.

in "Everything is Burning"

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Memoir by Vijay Shehadri


Orwell says somewhere that no one ever writes the real story of their life.
The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations.
If I wrote that story now--
radioactive to the end of time--
people, I swear, your eyes would fall out, you couldn't peel
the gloves fast enough
from your hands scorched by the firestorms of that shame.
Your poor hands. Your poor eyes
to see me weeping in my room
or boring the tall blonde to death.
Once I accused the innocent.
Once I bowed and prayed to the guilty.
I still wince at what I once said to the devastated widow.
And one October afternoon, under a locust tree
whose blackened pods were falling and making
illuminating patterns on the pathway,
I was seized by joy,
and someone saw me there,
and that was the worst of all,
lacerating and unforgettable.

Originally in the New Yorker, found also in *Best American Poetry 2006*

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My Nephew and His Wife
by Jane Mayhall

Some riders when they've done
with them, throw their horses away.
Who galloped the grassy sward, brisk on
a summer's day, buckles and saddles quoting
castanets in the sun.

My nephew and his wife, stern lovers
of the equine, when their gallants died,
buried them gently in the front yard.
But other amatuer horse-trainers in Alabama
just cancelled their beau-cheval,

once they'd either broken their
spirit, or let expire. And (incidentally,
against the law) carted their sleek beauties
off to the dump. But my nephew
and his wife, crack riders

and young at heart, had a sense of
the morning light. And picked up their flickering
shovels. Like hooves clopping through
the dark, did their immortal,
solemn work.

From *Sleeping Late on Judgment Day*

Healing and Light
by Jane Mayhall

Lying in wait, the undersoul,
when something hurts, you
can't heal it with descriptive passages
or wise guy quips,

or human sacrifice. Like the satellite true
feature story on Rio de Janeiro and
the massacre of homeless children,
no double talk.

Holding back the mismatch, misunderstanding
is the lonliest paradox, far seeing
with only faith to build on-- life's belittling
pathos, digging out.

When this lunar thing, notoriously
expired, in the swamp ditch of
the night, a moon of transfigured light
goes up, that would be dark

too, except filling the whole meadow,
so radiant, you could read
a newspaper by.

From *Sleeping Late on Judgment Day*

Waiting for the Barbarians
by Constantine P. Cavafy

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are to arrive today.

Why such inaction in the Senate?
Why do the Senators sit and pass no laws?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today.
What laws can the Senators pass any more?
When the barbarians come they will make the laws.

Why did our emperor wake up so early,
and sits at the greatest gate of the city,
on the throne, solemn, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today.
And the emperor waits to receive
their chief. Indeed he has prepared
to give him a scroll. Therein he inscribed
many titles and names of honor.

Why have our two consuls and the praetors come out
today in their red, embroidered togas;
why do they wear amethyst-studded bracelets,
and rings with brilliant, glittering emeralds;
why are they carrying costly canes today,
wonderfully carved with silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today,
and such things dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't the worthy orators come as always
to make their speeches, to have their say?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today;
and they get bored with eloquence and orations.

Why all of a sudden this unrest
and confusion. (How solemn the faces have become).
Why are the streets and squares clearing quickly,
and all return to their homes, so deep in thought?

Because night is here but the barbarians have not come.
And some people arrived from the borders,
and said that there are no longer any barbarians.

And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?
Those people were some kind of solution.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1904)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Das waren Tage Michelangelo
by Ranier Maria Rilke

Once I read in foreign books
of the time of Michelangelo.
That was a man beyond measure--a giant--
who forgot what the immeasurable was.

He was the kind of man who turns
to bring forth the meaning of an age
that wants to end.
He lifts its whole weight
and heaves it into the chasm of his heart.

The anguish and yearning of all those before him
become in his hands raw matter
for him to compress into one great work.

Only God escapes his will-- a God
he loves with a high hatred
for being so out of reach.

I,29 from the Book of Hours; Love Poems to God trns. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Friday, July 14, 2006

Riding the Elevator into the Sky
by Anne Sexton

As the fireman said:
Don't book a room over the fifth floor
in any hotel in New York.
They have ladders that will reach further
but no one will climb them
As the New York Times said:
The elevator always seeks out
the floor of the fire
and automatically opens
and won't shut.
There are warning
that you must forget
if you're climbing out of yourself.
If you're going to smash into the sky.
Many times I've gone past
the fifth floor,
cranking upwards,
but only once
have I gone all the way up.
Sixtieth floor:
small plants and swans bending
into their grave.
Floor two hundred:
mountains with the patience of a cat,
silence wearing its sneakers.
Floor five hundred:
messages and letters centuries old,
bird to drink,
a kitchen of clouds.
Floor six thousand:
the stars,
skeletons on fire,
their arms singing.
And a key,
a very large key,
that opens something -
some useful door -
somewhere -
up there.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

since feeling is first by e.e. cummings

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a far better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
--the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for eachother: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

Monday, July 03, 2006

A haiku by Kikaku

Above the boat
of wild geese.

A haiku by Kikaku
from A Book of Luminous Things ed. Czeslaw Milosz

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Quarrel by Grace Paley

Bob and I
    in different rooms
    talking to ourselves

carrying on
    last nights
    hard conversation

    the other one
    the life companion
    wasn't listening

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

My Moses, by Carl Dennis from Meetings with Time

My Moses
by Carl Dennis from Meetings with Time

Time to praise the other Moses, the one who concludes
That the bush isn't really burning, as he first supposed,
Just backlit in red by the setting sun,
Magnified by the need of a runaway to be pardoned,
To pull his shoes off and receive a vision.
The Moses who, when he lifts his staff,
Can't part the waters, who has to wade in
At low tide and hope for the best.
Nobody drowns. Nobody's following. The twelve tribes,
Sluggish after a hard day in the quarries,
Didn't find his lecture on the virtues inspiring.
And Pharoah was willing to see him go.
Good riddance, what with his praise of creation
That gouged the work month with holidays.
Now he's wringing his clothes out on the other side,
Relieved it hasn't taken him any longer to realize
He isn't much of a prophet, that he hasn't the gift.
Free now of the journey to the Promised Land
And the wars with the natives, he can settle down at once
Whenever he pleases, and be happy even here
In the country that disappointed Columbus,
That wasn't the hoped-for shortcut to spices.
Happy even on this block of mine, my neighbor,
A civics teacher at the high school,
Who leaves the gate to his yard unlocked
So the neighborhood children can pick the berries
Before the frost comes and leaf smoke rises
From small, mute fires he's lit himself.