Wednesday, June 26, 2013


"The lifeboats are sparse. I think it shall be over soon.”

Too Late

The One and the Other

The child hums as he carries, too late,
his grandmother’s sugar-dusted lemon-glazed cake

down the street to the neighbor who needs to be cheered,
too late for the neighbor

who’s stepped into the air
of her silent front hall from a ladder-backed chair

her church dress just pressed, her head in a loop she tied
into the clothesline, too late

he unlatches the gate,
walks up the brick walk on his tiptoes, avoiding the cracks

toward the door she unlocked, left ajar, who knows why
or for whom, if on purpose

or not, but because he’s too late
she’s gone still when he reaches the door and because

he’s too late, as he calls out and looks, brilliant sun
burns through haze

pours through sidelights and bevels
through chandelier prisms, strikes white sparks and purples

on ceiling and walls, on the overturned chair, on her stockings
her brown and white

spectator shoes on the floor
and because he’s too late he remembers both terror and beauty

but not which came first. But enough of the one
that he ran

and enough of the other
to carefully lay down the cake at her feet.

Hayden Saunier

Monday, June 24, 2013


Avoidance. Or why suicide is sometimes the only way out.

On the Death of a Colleague

She taught theater, so we gathered in the theater.
We praised her voice, her knowledge,
how good she was
with Godot and just four months later with Gigi.
She was fifty. The problem in the liver.
Each of us recalled
an incident in which she'd been kind
or witty.

I told about being unable to speak
from my diaphragm
and how she made me lie down, placed her hand
where the failure was
and showed me how to breathe.
But afterwards
I only could do it when I lay down
and that became a joke
between us, and I told it as my offering
to the audience. 

I was on stage and I heard myself
wishing to be impressive.
Someone else spoke of her cats
and no one spoke
of her face or the last few parties.
The fact was
I had avoided her for months.

It was a student's turn to speak, a sophomore,
one of her actors.
She was a drunk, he said, often came to class
Sometimes he couldn't look at her, the blotches,
the awful puffiness.

And yet she was a great teacher,
he loved her,
but thought someone should say
what everyone knew
because she didn't die by accident.
Everyone was crying. Everyone was crying and it
was almost over now.
The remaining speaker, a historian, said he'd cut
his speech short.

And the Chairman stood up as if by habit,
said something about loss
and thanked us for coming. None of us moved
except some students
to the student who'd spoken, and then others
moved to him, across dividers,
down aisles, to his side of the stage.

Stephen Dunn

Saturday, June 22, 2013

I asked myself

What, Sappho, can
you give one who
has everything,
like Aphrodite?


They go on, they go on without me

Walking in the Breakdown Lane

Wind has stripped
the young plum trees
to a thin howl.
They are planted in squares
to keep the loose dirt from wandering.
Everything around me is crying to be gone.
The fields, the crops humming to be cut and done with.

Walking in the breakdown lane, margin of gravel,
between the cut swaths and the road to Fargo,
I want to stop, to lie down
in standing wheat or standing water.

Behind me thunder mounts as trucks of cattle
roar over, faces pressed to slats for air.
They go on, they go on without me.
They pound, pound and bawl,
until the road closes over them farther on.
Louise Erdrich

Friday, June 21, 2013

Long Afternoons

Those were the long afternoons when poetry left me.
The river flowed patiently, nudging lazy boats to sea.
Long afternoons, the coast of ivory.
Shadows lounged in the streets, haughty manikins in shopfronts
stared at me with bold and hostile eyes.

Professors left their schools with vacant faces,
as if the Iliad had finally done them in.
Evening papers brought disturbing news,
but nothing happened, no one hurried.
There was no one in the windows, you weren’t there;
even nuns seemed ashamed of their lives.

Those were the long afternoons when poetry vanished
and I was left with the city’s opaque demon,
like a poor traveler stranded outside the Gare du Nord
with his bulging suitcase wrapped in twine
and September’s black rain falling.

Oh, tell me how to cure myself of irony, the gaze
that sees but doesn’t penetrate; tell me how to cure myself
of silence.

Adam Zagajewski

Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me

Last night
the rain
spoke to me
slowly, saying,
what joy
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!

That’s what it said
as it dropped,
smelling of iron,
and vanished
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.

Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing
under a tree.

The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain –
imagine! imagine!

the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.

Mary Oliver

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Lightkeeper

A night without ships. Foghorns called into walled cloud, and you
still alive, drawn to the light as if it were a fire kept by monks,
darkness once crusted with stars, but now death-dark as you sail inward.

Through wild gorse and sea wrack, through heather and torn wool
you ran, pulling me by the hand, so I might see this for once in my life:
the spin and spin of light, the whirring of it, light in search of the lost,

there since the era of fire, era of candles and hollow-wick lamps,
whale oil and solid wick, colza and lard, kerosene and carbide,
the signal fires lighted on this perilous coast in the Tower of Hook.

You say to me stay awake, be like the lensmaker who died with his
lungs full of glass, be the yew in blossom when bees swarm, be
their amber cathedral and even the ghosts of Cistercians will be kind to you.

In a certain light as after rain, in pearled clouds or the water beyond,
seen or sensed water, sea or lake, you would stop still and gaze out
for a long time. Also when fireflies opened and closed in the pines,
and a star appeared, our only heaven. You taught me to live like this.

That after death it would be as it was before we were born. Nothing
to be afraid. Nothing but happiness as unbearable as the dread
from which it comes. Go toward the light always, be without ships.

Carolyn Forché

Friday, June 14, 2013


Long before I first left home, my father
tried to teach me horses, land, and sky,
to show me how his kind of work was done.
I studied how to be my father’s son,
but all I learned was, when the wicked die,
they ride combines through barley forever.

Every summer I hated my father
as I drove hot horses through the dusty grass;
and so I broke with him, and left the farm
for other work, where unfamiliar weather
broke on my head an unexpected storm
and things I had not studied came to pass.

So nothing changes, nothing stays the same,
and I have returned from a broken home
alone, to ask for a job breaking horses.
I watch a colt on a long line making
tracks in dust, and think of the kinds of breakings
there are, and the kinds of restraining forces.

Henry Taylor

Thursday, June 13, 2013

There is no single moment of loss, there is an amassing

Snowshoe to Otter Creek
Stacie Cassarino

love lasts by not lasting
—Jack Gilbert

I’m mapping this new year’s vanishings:
lover, yellow house, the knowledge of surfaces.
This is not a story of return.

There are times I wish I could erase
the mind’s lucidity, the difficulty of Sundays,
my fervor to be touched
by a woman two Februarys gone.

What brings the body
back, grieved and cloven, tromping these woods
with nothing to confide in? New snow reassumes
the circleting trees, the bridge above the creek
where I stand like a stranger to my life.

There is no single moment of loss, there is
an amassing. The disbeliever sleeps at an angle
in the bed. The orchard is a graveyard.
Is this the real end? Someone shoveling her way out
with cold intention? Someone naming her missing?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

When you respond

"So what purpose does Beauty serve? This is something I have been chewing on for a while. I know I am a nicer warmer kinder person when I am in the presence of beauty, and sharing it with another. When I send you a poem, I am filled to the brim, I am open, unafraid, I am reaching out to you.  When you respond, I am connected, I can see the Circle we are part of, I can feel the warmth of the fire we are sitting around, I want to save the world, I want to give more of myself.

And on days that Beauty does not touch me, I am dry, hard, cold, defensive, aloof, overly anxious about protecting myself.

Are we innately wired to rejoice, to revel in Beauty, is that why all our search for purpose and meaning leaves us still dissatisfied? Maybe one half of us just needs to be filled with the taste of cherries, nothing else will do?"

Respond. Resonate

Words are not innocent. You say something into being. Or into non-being.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *
“You’re making good progress", your physiotherapist says. “You’re not fighting with the machine and giving up in frustration, like most people do.”

Oh. When did you learn that?

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

"To pursue beauty to its lair."  Oh, you do. The ordinary still leaves you breathless.

It helps to know you're living on borrowed time. It helps to be so poor, to have nothing, and therefore have only beauty to turn to.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *
It’s a very ancient Portuguese instrument, she said. And it has these sympathetic strings. “Sympathetic strings or resonance strings are auxiliary strings found on many Indian musical instruments, as well as some Western Baroque instruments and a variety of folk instruments.”

The musician never plays them, but they resonate to the notes played on the main sting, they will “vibrate in response, providing a lingering halo of sound.”



Walking Alone

Where the wild poem is a substitute
For the woman one loves or ought to love,
One wild rhapsody a fake for another.

Wallace Stevens

It is night. For hours I have been walking,
wanting to see you, hoping you might
appear suddenly by the side of the road,
on a bridge, or in the arc of headlights
bending toward me. I have continued

beyond any place you might conceivably be.
Sunk into a dark hollow, between trees
and stone, the river goes where it has to go.
In the cold air I construct long conversations:
whatever we wouldn’t say if you were here.

I recite poems. I return home and write more.
You are, of course, attending within them,
beautiful and calm, near a window
or by a bridge before winter. I fix you
safely, where we might find each other.

But something comes between us, like glass
or water, a distance I cannot avoid.
We meet by accident and fall away.
I come back here, compose another poem,
and walk about at night reciting it to you.

Everything I conceive as possible returns
to an ordered page. I wish I were blind.
I wish my fingers would drop off.
What are they doing, writing all this again?

Lawrence Raab

Wanting to Die

Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.  
Then the almost unnameable lust returns.

Even then I have nothing against life.
I know well the grass blades you mention,  
the furniture you have placed under the sun.

But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build.

Twice I have so simply declared myself,  
have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,  
have taken on his craft, his magic.

In this way, heavy and thoughtful,  
warmer than oil or water,
I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole.

I did not think of my body at needle point.
Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.  
Suicides have already betrayed the body.

Still-born, they don’t always die,
but dazzled, they can’t forget a drug so sweet  
that even children would look on and smile.

To thrust all that life under your tongue!—
that, all by itself, becomes a passion.  
Death’s a sad bone; bruised, you’d say,

and yet she waits for me, year after year,  
to so delicately undo an old wound,  
to empty my breath from its bad prison.

Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,  
raging at the fruit a pumped-up moon,  
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,

leaving the page of the book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love whatever it was, an infection.

Anne Sexton

A Style of Loving

Light now restricts itself
To the top half of trees;
The angled sun
Slants honey-coloured rays
That lessen to the ground
As we bike through
The corridor of Palm Drive
We two

Have reached a safety the years
Can claim to have created:
Unconsumated, therefore
Unjaded, unsated.
Picnic, movie, ice-cream;
Talk; to clear my head
Hot buttered rum - coffee for you;
And so not to bed

And so we have set the question
Aside, gently.
Were we to become lovers
Where would our best friends be?
You do not wish, nor I
To risk again
This savoured light for noon's
High joy or pain.

Vikram Seth

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Driving Toward the Lac Qui Parle River

I am driving; it is dusk; Minnesota.
The stubble field catches the last growth of sun.
The soybeans are breathing on all sides.
Old men are sitting before their houses on car seats
In the small towns. I am happy,
The moon rising above the turkey sheds.

The small world of the car
Plunges through the deep fields of the night,
On the road from Willmar to Milan.
This solitude covered with iron
Moves through the fields of night
Penetrated by the noise of crickets.

Nearly to Milan, suddenly a small bridge,
And water kneeling in the moonlight.
In small towns the houses are built right on the ground;
The lamplight falls on all fours on the grass.
When I reach the river, the full moon covers it.
A few people are talking, low, in a boat.

Robert Bly, from Silence in the Snowy Fields, 1962.

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