Friday, February 10, 2017

street poetry

I inhale a world,
budding with inv
isible actors, tel
ling their story,
whispering motio
nless, I watch the
ir movements, at
times quiet, at ti
mes violent. I list
en to their words
without letters,
only life  I am he
re, on this stage
too, a part of this
show, a breath of
this life.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Warsan Shire

When We Last Saw Your Father

He was sitting in the hospital parking lot
in a borrowed car, counting the windows
of the building, guessing which one
was glowing with his mistake.

Tennessee Williams

We Have Not Long To Love

We have not long to love. 
Light does not stay. 
The tender things are those 
we fold away. 
Coarse fabrics are the ones 
for common wear. 
In silence I have watched you 
comb your hair. 
Intimate the silence, 
dim and warm. 
I could but did not, reach 
to touch your arm. 
I could, but do not, break 
that which is still. 
(Almost the faintest whisper 
would be shrill.) 
So moments pass as though 
they wished to stay. 
We have not long to love. 
A night. A day.... 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Warsan Shire


My older sister soaps between her legs, her hair
a prayer of curls. When she was my age, she stole
the neighbour's husband, burnt his name into her skin.
For weeks she smelt of cheap perfume and dying flesh.

It's 4 a.m. and she winks at me, bending over the sink,
her small breasts bruised from sucking.
She smiles, pops her gum before saying
boys are haram, don't ever forget that.

Some nights I hear her in her room screaming.
We play Surah Al-Baqarah to drown her out.
Anything that leaves her mouth sounds like sex.
Our mother has banned her from saying God's name.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Ocean Vuong

     Aubade with Burning City

South Vietnam, April 29, 1975: Armed Forces Radio played Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” as a code to begin Operation Frequent Wind, the ultimate evacuation of American civilians and Vietnamese refugees by helicopter during the fall of Saigon.

            Milkflower petals on the street
                                                     like pieces of a girl’s dress.

May your days be merry and bright...

He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips.
            Open, he says.
                                        She opens.
                                                      Outside, a soldier spits out
            his cigarette as footsteps
                            fill the square like stones fallen from the sky. May all
                                         your Christmases be white as the traffic guard
            unstraps his holster.

                                        His hand running the hem
of  her white dress.
                            His black eyes.
            Her black hair.
                            A single candle.
                                        Their shadows: two wicks.

A military truck speeds through the intersection, the sound of children
                                        shrieking inside. A bicycle hurled
            through a store window. When the dust rises, a black dog
                            lies in the road, panting. Its hind legs
                                                                                   crushed into the shine
                                                       of a white Christmas.

On the nightstand, a sprig of magnolia expands like a secret heard
                                                                      for the first time.

The treetops glisten and children listen, the chief of police
                                facedown in a pool of Coca-Cola.
                                             A palm-sized photo of his father soaking
                beside his left ear.

The song moving through the city like a widow.
                A white ...    A white ...    I’m dreaming of a curtain of snow

                                                          falling from her shoulders.

Snow crackling against the window. Snow shredded

                                           with gunfire. Red sky.
                              Snow on the tanks rolling over the city walls.
A helicopter lifting the living just out of reach.

            The city so white it is ready for ink.

                                                     The radio saying run run run.
Milkflower petals on a black dog
                            like pieces of a girl’s dress.

May your days be merry and bright. She is saying
            something neither of them can hear. The hotel rocks
                        beneath them. The bed a field of ice

Don’t worry, he says, as the first bomb brightens
                             their faces, my brothers have won the war
                                                                       and tomorrow ...    
                                             The lights go out.

I’m dreaming. I’m dreaming ...    
                                                            to hear sleigh bells in the snow ...    

In the square below: a nun, on fire,
                                            runs silently toward her god — 

                           Open, he says.
                                                         She opens.

Jim Moore

Poem Without An Ending 

    Listening to acorns fall 
such a lovely sound
     I thought it was the whole poem
until I saw the girl in the paper
     with the mussed hair 
the bombed bus 
     no one bothering yet 
to close those two black eyes  

Mary Oliver

 Wild Geese 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination, 
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Anne Carson


When my brother died (unexpectedly) his
widow couldn't find a phone number for me among his
papers until two weeks later. While I swept my porch
and bought apples and sat by the window in the evening
with the radio on, his death came wandering slowly
towards me across the sea.

Nox by Anne Carson; 2010

Jim Moore


The old woman who lives across the street
runs her vacuum
on the day after Christmas,
cleaning up after the silence
of the day before.
Two small geraniums in the window
lean into one another
like people whispering at a funeral:
signs of life.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Now the hour bows down, it touches me, throbs
metallic, lucid and bold:
my senses are trembling. I feel my own power –
on the plastic day I lay hold.

Until I perceived it, no thing was complete,
but waited, hushed, unfulfilled.
My vision is ripe, to each glance like a bride
comes softly the thing that was willed.

There is nothing too small, but my tenderness paints
it large on a background of gold,
and I prize it, not knowing whose soul at the sight,
released, may unfold . . .

[Poems from The Book of Hours]

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Claudia Emerson


There were warnings: he had, at forty, never
married; he was too close to his mother,
calling her by her given name, Manuela,
ah, Manuela⎯like a lover; even her face

had bled, even the walls, giving birth to him;
she still had saved all of his baby teeth
except the one he had yet to lose, a small
eyetooth embedded, stubborn in the gum.

I would eat an artichoke down to its heart,
then feed the heart to him. It was enough
that he was not you⎯and utterly foreign,
related to no one. So it was not love.

So it ended badly, but to some relief.
I was again alone in my bed, but not
invisible as I had been to you⎯
and I had learned that when I drank sherry

I was drinking a chalk-white landscape, a distant
poor soil; that such vines have to suffer; and that
champagne can be kept effervescent by putting
a knife in the open mouth of the bottle.

Late Wife Poems by Claudia Emerson; Louisiana State University Press

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Carol Ann Duffy


Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer ⎯
Rocakall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Carol Ann Duffy


I dream through a wordless, familiar place.
The small boat of the day sails into morning,
past the postman with his modest haul, the full trees
which sound like the sea, leaving my hands free
to remember. Moments of grace. Like this.

Shaken by first love and kissing a wall. Of course.
The dried ink on the palms then ran suddenly wet,
a glistening blue name in each fist. I sit now
in a kind of sly trance, hoping I will not feel me
breathing too close across time. A face to the name. Gone.

The chimes of mothers calling in children
at dusk. Yes. It seems we live in those staggering years
only to haunt them; the vanishing scents
and colours of infinite hours like a melting balloon
in earlier hands. The boredom since.

Memory’s caged bird won’t fly. These days
we are adjectives, nouns. In moments of grace
we were verbs, the secret of poems, talented.
A thin skin lies on the language. We stare
deep in the eyes of strangers, look for the doing words.

Now I smell you peeling an orange in the other room.
Now I take off my watch, let a minute unravel
in my hands, listen and look as I do so,
and mild loss opens my lips like No.
Passing, you kiss the back of my neck. A blessing.

Carol Ann Duffy


Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
A wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Alice Oswald

Pruning in Frost

Last night, without a sound,
a ghost of a world lay down on a world,

trees like dream-wrecks
coralled with increments of frost.

Found crevices
and wound and wound
the clock-spring cobwebs.

All life’s ribbon frozen mid-fling.

Oh I am
stone thumbs,
feet of glass.

Work knocks in me the winter’s nail.

I can imagine
Pain, turned heron,
could fly off slowly in a creak of wings.

And I’d be staring, like one of those
cold-holy and granite kings,
getting carved into this effigy of orchard.

From The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile

Monday, January 28, 2008



The last leaves' embers in total immolation
Rise into the sky; this whole forest
Seethes with irritation, just as we did
That last year we lived together.

The path you take is reflected in our tear-filled eyes,
As bushes are reflected in the murky flood-lands.
Don't be difficult, don't touch, don't threaten,
Don't offend the forest silence by the Volga.

You can hear the old life breathing:
Clumps of mushrooms growing in damp grass -
Though gnawed to the very core by slugs,
They still inflame the skin.

All our past is like a threat -
Look, I'm coming, watch, I'll kill you!
The sky shivers and holds a maple, like a rose, -
May it burn still stronger - right into your eyes.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Anne Carson

From The Beauty of the Husband. A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos


You want to see how things were going from the husband’s point of view⎯
let’s go round the back,
there stands the wife
gripping herself at the elbows and facing the husband.
Not tears he is saying, not tears again. But still they fall.
She is watching him.
I’m sorry he says. Do you believe me.
I never wanted to harm you.
This is banal. It’s like Beckett. Say something!
I believe

your taxi is here she said.
He looked down at the street. She was right. It stung him,
the pathos of her keen hearing.
There she stood a person with particular traits,
a certain heart, life beating on its way in her.
He signals to the driver, five minutes.
Now her tears have stopped.
What will she do after I go? he wonders. Her evening. It closed his breath.
Her strange evening.
Well he said.
Do you know she began.

If I could kill you I would then have to make another exactly like you.
To tell it to.
Perfection rested on them for a moment like a calm lake.
Pain rested.
Beauty does not rest.
The husband touched his wife’s temple
and turned
and ran

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Carol Ann Duffy


When you come on Thursday, bring me a letter. We
the language of stuffed birds, teacups. We don’t have
the language of bodies. My husband will be here.
I shall inquire about your wife, stirring his cup
with a thin spoon, and my hand shall not tremble.
Give me the letter as I take your hat. Mention
the cold weather. My skin burns at the sight of you.

We skim the surface, gossip. I baked this cake and you
eat it. Words come from nowhere, drift off
like the smoke from his pipe. Beneath my dress, my
swell for your lips, belly churns to be stilled
by your brown hands. The secret life of Gulliver,
held down by strings of pleasantries. I ache. Later
your letter flares up in the heat and is gone.

Dearest Beloved, pretend I am with you . . . I read
your dark words and do to myself things
you can only imagine. I hardly know myself.
Your soft, white body in my arms . . . When we part,
you kiss my hand, bow from the waist, all passion
patiently restrained. Your servant, Ma’am. Now you
wild phrases of love. The words blur as I cry out once.

Next time we meet, in drawing-room or garden,
passing our letters cautiously between us, our eyes
fixed carefully on legal love, think of me here
on my marriage-bed an hour after you’ve left.
I have called your name over and over in my head
at the point your fiction brings me to. I have kissed
your sweet name on the paper as I knelt by the fire.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Carol Ann Duffy


I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.

Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,

as the women harvest the slopes
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

YOSANO AKIKO (1878-1942)

Black hair
Tangled in a thousand strands.
Tangled my hair and
Tangled my tangled memories
Of our long nights of lovemaking.


Press my breasts,
Part the veil of mystery,
A flower blooms there,
Crimson and fragrant.


Not speaking of the way,
Not thinking of what comes after,
Not questioning name or fame,
Here, loving love,
You and I look at each other.


Left on the beach
Full of water,
A worn out boat
Reflects the white sky
Of early autumn.


*Fragment 31

He seems to me equal to gods that man
who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking

and lovely laughing ⎯oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, a moment, then no speaking
is left in me

no: tongue breaks, and thin
fire is racing under skin
and in eyes no sight and drumming
fills ears

and cold sweat holds me and shaking
grips me all, greener than grass
I am and dead ⎯or almost
I seem to me.

*Poetarum Lesborium Fragmenta (Oxford 1955)

Anne Carson


While talking to my mother I neaten things. Spines of books by the phone.
in a china dish. Fragments of eraser that dot the desk. She speaks
of death. I begin tilting all the paperclips in the other direction.
the window snow is falling straight down in lines. To my mother,
of my life, I describe what I had for brunch. The lines are falling
now. Fate has put little weights on the ends (to speed us up) I
to tell her ⎯sign of God’s pity. She won’t keep me
she says, she
won’t run up my bill. Miracles slip past us. The
are immortally aligned. God’s pity! How long
it feel like burning, said the child trying to be


[Place Nowy]

by John Berger

I have never been in this square before and I know it by heart, or rather I know by heart the people who are selling things in it. Some of them have regular stalls with awnings to keep the sun off their goods. It is already hot, hot with the blurred, gnat heat of the Eastern European plains and forest. A foliage heat. A heat full of suggestions, that does not have the assurance of a Mediterranean heat. Here nothing is certain. The nearest thing to certainty is a grandmother.

Other sellers ⎯ all of them women ⎯ have come from the outlying villages with their produce in baskets or buckets. They do not have stalls and are sitting on stools they brought with them. A few stand. I wander between them.

Lettuces, red radishes, horseradishes, cut dill like green lace, small knobby cucumbers which in this heat grow in three days, new potatoes, their skins, with a little powdered earth on them, the colour of grandchildren’s knees, stick-celery with its cleansing toothbrush smell, cuttings of liveche, which the men, drinking vodka, swear is an incomparable aphrodisiac for women as well as men, bunches of young carrots swapping fern jokes, cut roses mostly yellow, cottage cheeses, which the rags pegged to the clothes line in their gardens still smell of, wild green asparagus that the children were sent to look for near the village cemetery.

The professional traders have naturally acquired all the trading tricks for persuading the public that golden opportunities never come twice. The women on their stools, by contrast, propose nothing. They are immobile, expressionless, and rely on their own simple presence to guarantee the quality of what they have brought to see from their own gardens.

I wander between them. Different ages. Different builds. Eyes of different colour. No two women wearing the same kerchief. And each one of them has found, as she bends down to cut chives or pull out dogtooth weed or pick red radishes, her own way of protecting, of favouring, the small of her back, so that its intermittent aches do not become chronic. When they were younger it was their hips which absorbed shock of events, now it is their shoulders which have to do so.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Andrew Motion

The Message

In Memory of Sarah Raphael


A crystal mid-winter Saturday dawn
and the names of things the same

as things themselves: flash-over frost
sealing my garden square; the ash tree

perfectly matched by its ghost in mist;
unshakeable hush through the street.

I take it all in as I climb the stairs
to my room, completely at home

yet free of cash and jacket I need
before I go out to the world.

And here on my desk is the toad-head
jewel in my telephone winking.

Why should I answer it now? This moment
is mine. But I do. I answer it feeling

the terror which started inside me
a lifetime ago, and that’s how I hear

you are dead. The peaceable street;
the ash in its trance; the frost:

these all look exactly the same. What’s new
is the crash of them splitting apart from their names.


I rang your number
and heard your voice
on the answerphone ⎯
un-deliberate grace

in a message-rush,
and your hasty fall
on the word good-bye,
though you were well

when you set it down,
and never knew
how it might endure,
outliving you

like the travelling light
of a snuffed-out star
spearheaded to meet
the ignorant stare

of us below,
who blink and look,
and are not sure
which things to take

in our little mist
of breath-by-breath
as signs of life
and which of death.


In your telephone
the tape has been changed, and now the glib machine
remembers only a new regime.

In your desk
a tidy number of unopened letters lie
bearing your name and the brand of missing days.

In your studio
the bubble-cartons of all your brilliant ideas
have reached the ceiling, and stuck, and will not stir.

In your children’s room
the spine of our favourite book is aching to bend
open, and let the story end.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Jorie Graham


The slow overture of rain,
each drop breaking
without breaking into
the next, describes
the unrelenting, syncopated
mind. Not unlike
the hummingbirds
imagining their wings
to be their heart, and swallows
believing the horizon
to be a line they lift
and drop. What is it
they cast for? The poplars,
advancing or retreating,
lose their stature
equally, and yet stand firm,
making arrangements
in order to become
imaginary. The city
draws the mind in streets,
and streets compel it
from their intersections
where a little
belongs to no one. It is
what is driven through
all stationary portions
of the world, gravity's
stake in things, the leaves,
pressed against the dank
window of November
soil, remain unwelcome
till transformed, parts
of a puzzle unsolvable
till the edges give a bit
and soften. See how
then the picture becomes clear,
the mind entering the ground
more easily in pieces,
and all the richer for it.

Mary Oliver


In Singapore, in the airport,
a darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women's restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something
in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that's not possible, a fountain
rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and
neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor,
which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as
hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, but like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don't doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop
and fly down to the river.
This probably won't happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?

Of course, it isn't.
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life. I mean
the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
the way her smile was only for my sake; I mean
the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

James Merill

The Broken Home

Crossing the street,
I saw the parents and the child
At their window, gleaming like fruit
With evening's mild gold leaf.

In a room on the floor below,
Sunless, cooler—a brimming
Saucer of wax, marbly and dim—
I have lit what's left of my life.

I have thrown out yesterday's milk
And opened a book of maxims.
The flame quickens. The word stirs.

Tell me, tongue of fire,
That you and I are as real
At least as the people upstairs.

My father, who had flown in World War I,
Might have continued to invest his life
In cloud banks well above Wall Street and wife.
But the race was run below, and the point was to win.

Too late now, I make out in his blue gaze
(Through the smoked glass of being thirty-six)
The soul eclipsed by twin black pupils, sex
And business; time was money in those days.

Each thirteenth year he married. When he died
There were already several chilled wives
In sable orbit—rings, cars, permanent waves.
We'd felt him warming up for a green bride.

He could afford it. He was "in his prime"
At three score ten. But money was not time.

When my parents were younger this was a popular act:
A veiled woman would leap from an electric, wine-dark car
To the steps of no matter what—the Senate or the Ritz Bar—
And bodily, at newsreel speed, attack

No matter whom—Al Smith or José María Sert
Or Clemenceau—veins standing out on her throat
As she yelled War mongerer! Pig! Give us the vote!,
And would have to be hauled away in her hobble skirt.

What had the man done? Oh, made history.
Her business (he had implied) was giving birth,
Tending the house, mending the socks.

Always that same old story—
Father Time and Mother Earth,
A marriage on the rocks.

One afternoon, red, satyr-thighed
Michael, the Irish setter, head
Passionately lowered, led
The child I was to a shut door. Inside,

Blinds beat sun from the bed.
The green-gold room throbbed like a bruise.
Under a sheet, clad in taboos
Lay whom we sought, her hair undone, outspread,

And of a blackness found, if ever now, in old
Engravings where the acid bit.
I must have needed to touch it
Or the whiteness—was she dead?
Her eyes flew open, startled strange and cold.
The dog slumped to the floor. She reached for me. I fled.

Tonight they have stepped out onto the gravel.
The party is over. It's the fall
Of 1931. They love each other still.

She: Charlie, I can't stand the pace.
He: Come on, honey—why, you'll bury us all!

A lead soldier guards my windowsill:
Khaki rifle, uniform, and face.
Something in me grows heavy, silvery, pliable.

How intensely people used to feel!
Like metal poured at the close of a proletarian novel,
Refined and glowing from the crucible,
I see those two hearts, I'm afraid,
Still. Cool here in the graveyard of good and evil,
They are even so to be honored and obeyed.

. . . Obeyed, at least, inversely. Thus
I rarely buy a newspaper, or vote.
To do so, I have learned, is to invite
The tread of a stone guest within my house.

Shooting this rusted bolt, though, against him,
I trust I am no less time's child than some
Who on the heath impersonate Poor Tom
Or on the barricades risk life and limb.

Nor do I try to keep a garden, only
An avocado in a glass of water—
Roots pallid, gemmed with air. And later,

When the small gilt leaves have grown
Fleshy and green, I let them die, yes, yes,
And start another. I am earth's no less.

A child, a red dog roam the corridors,
Still, of the broken home. No sound. The brilliant
Rag runners halt before wide-open doors.
My old room! Its wallpaper—cream, medallioned
With pink and brown—brings back the first nightmares,
Long summer colds, and Emma, sepia-faced,
Perspiring over broth carried upstairs
Aswim with golden fats I could not taste.

The real house became a boarding school.
Under the ballroom ceiling's allegory
Someone at last may actually be allowed
To learn something; or, from my window, cool
With the unstiflement of the entire story,
Watch a red setter stretch and sink in cloud.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Some Fruit as Remembered by the Dead

by John Berger

[Nearly everything Berger writes reads like a prose poem. These delicate prose pieces are extracted from his “fictional memoir” Here is Where We Meet.]


We looked for greengages every year during the month of August. Frequently they disappointed. Either they were unripe, fibrous, almost dry, or else they were over-soft and mushy. Many were not worth biting into, for one could feel with one’s finger that they did not have the right temperature: a temperature unfindable in Celsius or Fahrenheit: the temperature of a particular coolness surrounded by sunshine. The temperature of a small boy’s fist.

The boy is somewhere between eight and ten-and-a half years old, the age of independence, before the press of adolescence. The boy holds the greengage in his hand, brings it to his mouth, bites, and the fruit darts its tongue against the back of his throat so that he swallows its promise.

A promise of what? Of something that has not yet been named and he will soon name. He tastes a sweetness which no longer has anything to do with sugar, but with a limb which goes on and on, and seems to have no end. The limb belongs to a body which he can only see with his eyes shut. They body has three more limbs and a neck and ankles and is like his own; except that it is inside out. Through the limb without end flows a sap ⎯ he can taste it between his teeth ⎯ the sap of a nameless pale wood, which he calls girl-tree.

It was enough that one greengage in a hundred reminded us of that.

Yusef Komunyakaa

We Never Know

He danced with tall grass
for a moment, like he was swaying
with a woman. Our gun barrels
glowed white-hot.
When I got to him,
a blue halo
of flies had already claimed him.
I pulled the crumbed photograph
from his fingers.
There's no other way
to say this: I fell in love.
The morning cleared again,
except for a distant mortar
& somewhere choppers taking off.
I slid the wallet into his pocket
& turned him over, so he wouldn't be
kissing the ground.

A Personal Helicon

by Seamus Heaney

for Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Autobiography of Red

by Anne Carson

The extract below is from Carson’s novel in verse, a modern and often steamy, re-creation of an ancient Greek myth.

XVI . Grooming

As in childhood we live sweeping close to the sky and now, what dawn is this.

Herakles lies like a piece of torn silk in the heat of the blue saying,
Geryon please. The break in his voice
made Geryon think for some reason of going into a barn
first thing in the morning
when sunlight strikes a bale of raw hay still wet from the night.
Put your mouth on it Geryon please.
Geryon did. It tasted sweet enough. I am learning a lot in this year of my life,
thought Geryon. It tasted very young.
Geryon felt clear and powerful ⎯ not some wounded angel after all
but a magnetic person like Matisse
or Charlie Parker! Afterwards they lay kissing for a long time then
played gorillas. Got hungry.
Soon they were sitting in a booth at the Bus Depot waiting for food.
They had started to practice
their song (“Joy to the World”) when Herakles pulled Geryon’s head
into his lap and began grooming
for nits. Gorilla grunts mingled with breakfast sounds in the busy room.
The waitress arrived
holding two plates of eggs. Geryon gazed up at her from under Herakles’ arm.
Newlyweds? she said.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ishigaki Rin: 2 poems


In Tokyo
At the public bathhouse the price went up to 19 yen and so
When you pay 20 yen at the counter
You get one yen change.

Women have no leeway in their lives
To be able to say that
They don’t need one yen
And so though they certainly accept the change
They have no place to put it
And drop it in between their washing things.

Thanks to that
The happy aluminum coins
Soak to their fill in hot water
And are splashed with soap.

One yen coins have the status of chess pawns
So worthless that they’re likely to bob up even now
In the hot water.

What a blessing to be of no value
In monetary terms.

A one yen coin
Does not distress people in the way a 1,000 yen note does
Is not as sinful as a 10,000 yen note
The one yen coin in the bath
With healthy naked women.

* * *


In the night I awoke.
The clams I bought yesterday
In a corner of the kitchen
With mouths open were alive.

‘When dawn comes
I’m going to gobble them all up
Every single one.’

I cackled
The cackle of a witch.
From that moment on
My mouth slightly open
I passed the night in sleep.

Translation by Leith Morton; 2005

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Good King Wenceslas

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shown the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gathering winter fuel.

Hither, page, and stand by me.
If thou know it telling:
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?
Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes fountain.

Bring me flesh, and bring me wine.
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear the thither.
Page and monarch, forth they went,
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather.

Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how.
I can go no longer.
Ark my footsteps my good page,
Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.

In his master's step he trod,
Where the snow lay dented.
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.