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.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Galway Kinnell

When One has Lived a Long Time Alone

When one has lived a long time alone,
one refrains from swatting the fly
and lets him go, and one hesitates to strike
the mosquito, though more than willing to slap
the flesh under her, and one lifts the toad
from the pit too deep to hop out of
and carries him to the grass, without minding
the poisoned urine he slicks his body with,
and one envelops, in a towel, the swift
who fell down the chimney and knocks herself
against window glass and releases her outside
and watches her fly free, a life line flung at reality,
when one has lived a ling time alone.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Li-Young Lee

Eating Together

In the steamer is the trout
seasoned with slivers of ginger,
two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.
We shall eat it with rice for lunch,
brothers, sister, my mother who will
taste the sweetest meat of the head,
holding it between her fingers
deftly, the way my father did
weeks ago. Then he lay down
to sleep like a snow-covered road
winding through pines older than him,
without any travelers, and lonely for no one.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Penelope Shuttle


A jug of water
has its own lustrous turmoil

The ironing board thanks god
for its two good strong legs and sturdy back

The new fridge hums like a maniac
with helpfulness

I am trying to love the world
back to normal

The chair recites its stand-alone prayer
again and again

The table leaves no stone unturned
The clock votes for the separate burial of hearts

I am trying to love the world
and all its 8,000 identifiable languages

With the forgetfulness of a potter
I’m trying to get the seas back on the maps
where they belong

secured to their rivers

The kettle alone knows the good he does,
Here in the kitchen, loving the world,
Steadfastly loving

See how easy it is, he whistles

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Edna St. Vincent Millay

[Written in 1931 while living on a farm in rural New York, isolated and often ill and despondent. ⎯Hayden Carruth]

Fatal Interview


This beast that rends me in the sight of all,

This love, this longing, this oblivious thing,
That has me under as the last leaves fall,
Will glut, will sicken, will be gone by spring.
The wound will heal, the fever will abate,
The knotted hurt will slacken in the breast;
I shall forget before the flickers mate
Your look that is today my east and west.
Unscathed, however, from a claw so deep
Though I should love again I shall not go:
Along my body, waking while I sleep,
Sharp to the kiss, cold to hand as snow,
The scar of this encounter like a sword
Will lie between me and my troubled lord.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Masayo Koike: 2 poems


Late at night the Daikokuya bathhouse is quiet
An old woman bone-tired
Even naked unable to be free of dirt
Rattling the door
Comes in
From the nozzle of the shower with the tap loose
Water makes a dripping sound
Bare-footed the cool of the night softly steals in
From the high skylight
The water is rocking
Overflowing the edge of the bath
Pass no judgement
Like a log
I look at the female bodies
I saw
Naked backs, hips and backsides
Private parts
The water flowing over their bodies
Fallen head-hair
The many hollows of the female body
Water gathering there
Dripping down
I feel as if I have been looking at this
For years over and over again
I also saw the wall separating the men’s and women’s baths
And I took my time to make certain that
Like a wild beast
Climbed from the men’s into the women’s bath
Or the other way


A Short Poem about Daybreak

America, in a toilet in Santa Fe
I was urinating softly for a long long time
In the whole world
I felt as if there was only this sound and myself
Despite the fact that I was making the noise
Curiously it sounded as if it was coming from outside
As I was being consoled by it
Like an old woman’s unending story
I was
Waiting for it to end
But it would not
A time that doesn’t belong
To anyone
I wasn’t here,
I’m not alive,
I could even say this
Presently the sound ceased
In this room that had rapidly grown cold
A silent soul suddenly created
Is that me, is it me?
The temperature of life left in the shape of an invisible circle
Were you there?
Were you there in that room?
I was
I am alive
Long before then the questioning voice reached me

© 2001, Masayo Koike
From: Yoakemae Juppun
Publisher: Shichosha, Tokyo, 2001

© Translation: 2006, Leith Morton

Monday, December 10, 2007

Kiji Kutani

Kiji Kutani is a 23 year old Japanese poet. The following poem was written when he was a high school student. To listen to him read click here.


The fading day lingers on,
caught in a whirlpool with rifts in the grain.
From the tips of my toes
my whole body
burns with cold.
And the fading day lingers on.
A long beam of the setting sun shifts,
touching rough frost
frozen deep in my core.
As I bend down
to peer at its swaying orange edge
a sheet of brand-new
scrap paper enters my view —
even the unnecessary rip
left after I’d scribbled all over it:
emptiness engrained in the weft
of brand-new scrap

Some people, it is said,
see God when they close their eyes.
Once I had a friend
who told me he saw
a field of green foxtail, shoulder-high
stretching far into the distance
I’m ashamed to say that I myself
see nothing at all.
And yet
if it’s a matter of surrendering oneself completely
to nothingness,
I too yield my whole,
now sun-bereft

Friday, December 07, 2007

Tamara Fulcher


My father said, So what do you do?

I stopped, and replied, I sing in the choir.
Choir? said Mother, That must take some work.
I said, It takes a lot,

And practice. He flicked his ash
Into the hearth and I tried to stand taller.
It fell as small snow. My shoes were tight.
Do you perform?
Not on my own, Ma, I said, But we do.
The choir. We are many. She dropped her head
As he made a noise.
Outside was getting in, between the drapes.

I wish you'd told us, she said,
We'd like to have known before now.
The fire cracked. He made the noise again,
Looking down.
We could have come to watch.
You can still come, I said, eager as a boy.

Oh, I don't know. He could still speak
To throw me off. He sucked on the end of it,
Chucked it in to burn. It's a bit late for that now.
Season's nearly over, eh.
There is no season, I said. There is no season,
Mother said, pushing in,
It's all the time. He rubbed his red hands fast.
Oh well, he said, You'll let us know how

You're getting along.
What do you sing? she said, craning up.
Oh, I said, Just songs. Everything.
Yes, we said, Yes. He was still looking
Down at the wood, white, shaking into air
And fading out of sight, out of being.
I saw her eyes were closed.

Published in Poetry Review, 95:4

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Wallace Stevens

Debris of Life and Mind

There is so little that is close and warm.
It is as if we were never children.

Sit in the room. It is true in the moonlight
That it is as if we had never been young.

We ought not to be awake. It is from this
That a bright red woman will be rising

And, standing in violent golds, will brush her hair.
She will speak thoughtfully the words of a line.

She will think about them not quite able to sing.
Besides, when the sky is so blue, things sing themselves,

Even for her, already for her. She will listen
And feel that her color is a meditation,

The most gay and yet not so gay as it was.
Stay here. Speak of familiar things a while.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Rainer Maria Rilke


Have I said it before? I am learning to see. Yes, I am beginning. It’s still going badly. But I intend to make the most of my time.

For example, it never occurred to me before how many faces there are. There are multitudes of people, but there are many more faces, because each person has several of them. There are people who wear the same face for years; naturally it wears out, gets dirty, splits at the seams, stretches like gloves worn during a long journey. They are thrifty, uncomplicated people; they never change it, never even have it cleaned. It’s good enough, they say, and who can convince them of the contrary? Of course, since they have several faces, you might wonder what they do with the other ones. They keep them in storage. Their children will wear them. But sometimes it also happens that their dogs go out wearing them. And why not? A face is a face.

Other people change faces incredibly fast, put on one after another, and wear them out. At first, they think they have an unlimited supply; but when they are barely forty years old they come to their last one. There is, to be sure, something tragic about this. They are not accustomed to taking care of faces; their last one is worn through in a week, has holes in it, is in many places as thin as paper, and then, little by little, the lining shows through, the non-face, and they walk around with that on.

But the woman, the woman: she had completely fallen into herself, forward into her hands. It was on the corner of rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. I began to walk quietly as soon as I saw her. When poor people are thinking, they shouldn’t be disturbed. Perhaps their idea will still occur to them.

The street was too empty; its emptiness had gotten bored and pulled my steps out from under my feet and clattered around in them, all over the street, as if they were wooden clogs. The woman sat up, frightened, she pulled out of herself, too quickly, too violently, so that her face was left in her two hands. I could see it lying there: its hollow form. It cost me an indescribable effort to stay with those two hands, not to look at what had been torn out of them. I shuddered to see a face from the inside, but I was much more afraid of that bare flayed head waiting there, faceless.

From The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke; Edited & Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Anne Carson



I can tell by the way my mother chews her toast
whether she had a good night
and is about to say a happy thing
or not.

She puts her toast down on the side of her plate.
You know you can pull the drapes in that room, she begins.

This is a coded reference to one of our oldest arguments,
from what I call The Rules of Life series.
My mother always closes her bedroom drapes tight before going to
bed at night.

I open mine as wide as possible.
I like to see everything, I say.
What’s there to see?

Moon. Air. Sunrise.
All that light on your face in the morning. Wakes you up.
I like to wake up.

At this point the drapes argument has reached a delta
and may advance along one of three channels.
There is the What You Need Is A Good Night’s Sleep channel,

the Stubborn As Your Father channel
the random channel.
More toast I interpose strongly, pushing back my chair.

Those women! says my mother with an exasperated rasp.
Mother has chosen random channel.

Complaining about rape all the time⎯
I see she is tapping one furious finger on yesterday’s newspaper
lying beside the grape jam.

The front page has a small feature
about a rally for International Women’s Day⎯
have you had a look at the Sears Summer Catalogue?

Why, it’s a disgrace! Those bathing suits⎯
cut way up to here! (she points) No wonder!

You’re saying women deserve to get raped
because Sears bathing suit ads
have high-cut legs? Ma, are you serious?

Well someone has to be responsible.
Why should women be responsible for male desire? My voice is high.
Oh I see you’re one of Them.

One of Whom? My voice is very high. Mother vaults it.
And whatever did you do with that little tank suit you had last year
the green one?
It looked so smart on you.

The frail fact drops on me from a great height
that my mother is afraid.
She will be eighty years old this summer.

Her tiny sharp shoulders hunched in the blue bathrobe
make me think of Emily Brontë’s little merlin hawk Hero
that she fed bits of bacon at the kitchen table when Charlotte wasn’t

So Ma, we’ll go⎯I pop up the toaster
and toss a hot slice of pumpernickel lightly across onto her plate⎯
visit Dad today? She eyes the kitchen clock with hostility.

Leave at eleven, home again by four? I continue.
She is buttering her toast with jagged strokes.
Silence is assent in our code. I go into the next room to phone the

My father lives in a hospital for patients who need chronic care
about 50 miles from here.
He suffers from a kind of dementia

characterised by two sorts of pathological change
first recorded in 1907 by Alois Alzheimer.
First, the presence in cerebral tissue

of a spherical formation known as neuritic plaque,
consisting mainly of degenerating brain cells.
Second, neurofibrillary snarlings

in the cerebral cortex and in the hippocampus.
There is no known cause or cure.
Mother visits him by taxi once a week

for the last five years.
Marriage is for better or for worse, she says,
this is the worse.

So about an hour later we are in the taxi
shooting along empty country roads towards town.
The April light is clear as an alarm.

As we pass them it gives a sudden sense of every object
existing in space on its own shadow.
I wish I could carry this clarity with me

into the hospital where distinctions tend to flatten and coalesce.
I wish I had been nicer to him before he got crazy.
These are my two wishes.

It is hard to find the beginning of dementia.
I remember a night about ten years ago
when I was talking to him on the telephone.

It was a Sunday night in winter.
I heard his sentences filling up with fear.
He would start a sentence⎯about weather, lose his way, start
It made me furious to hear him floundering⎯

my tall proud father, former World War II navigator!
It made me merciless.
I stood on the edge of the conversation,

watching him thrash about for cues,
offering none,
and it came to me like a slow avalanche

that he had no idea who he was talking to.
Much colder today I guess. . . .
his voice pressed into the silence and broke off,

snow falling on it.
There was a long pause while snow covered us both.
Well I won’t keep you,

he said with a sudden desperate cheer as if sighting land.
I’ll say goodnight now,
I won’t run up your bill. Goodbye.

Goodbye. Who are you?
I said into the dial tone.

At the hospital we pass down long pink halls
through a door with a big window
and a combination lock (5⎯25⎯3)

to the west wing, for chronic care patients.
Each wing has a name.
The chronic wing is Our Golden Mile

although mother prefers to call it The Last Lap.
Father sits strapped in a chair which is tied to the wall
in a room of other tied people tilting at various angles.

My father tilts least, I am proud of him.
Hi Dad how y’doing?
His face cracks open it could be a grin or rage

and looking past me he issues a stream of vehemence at the air.
My mother lays her hand on his.
Hello love, she says. He jerks his hand away. We sit.

Sunlight flocks through the room.
Mother begins to unpack from her handbag the things she has
brought for him,
grapes, arrowroot biscuits, humbugs.

He is addressing strenuous remarks to someone in the air between us.
He uses a language known only to himself,
made of snarls and syllables and sudden wild appeals.

Once in a while some old formula floats up through the wash⎯
You don’t say! or Happy Birthday to you!⎯
but no real sentence

for more than three years now.
I notice his front teeth are getting black.
I wonder how you clean the teeth of mad people.

He always took good care of his teeth. My mother looks up.
She and I often think two halves of one thought.
Do you remember that gold-plated toothpick

you sent him from Harrod’s the summer you were in London? she
Yes I wonder what happened to it.
Must be in the bathroom somewhere.

She is giving him grapes one by one.
They keep rolling out of his huge stiff fingers.
He used to be a big man, over six feet tall and strong,

but since he came to hospital his body has shrunk to the merest bone
except the hands. The hands keep growing.
Each one now as big as a boot in Van Gogh,

they go lumbering after the grapes in his lap.
But now he turns to me with a rush of urgent syllables
that break off on a high note⎯he waits,

staring into my face. That quizzical look.
One eyebrow at an angle.
I have a photograph taped to my fridge at home.

It shows his World War II air crew posing in front of the plane.
Hands firmly behind backs, legs wide apart,
chins forward.

Dressed in the puffed flying suits
with a wide leather strap pulled tight through the crotch.
They squint into the brilliant winter sun of 1942.

It is dawn.
They are leaving Dover for France.
My father on the far left is the tallest airman,

with his collar up,
one eyebrow at an angle.
The shadowless light makes him look immortal,

for all the world like someone who will not weep again.
He is still staring into my face.
Flaps down! I cry.
His black grin flares once and goes out like a match.

The Glass Essay; Glass Irony and God; 1992

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Robin Robertson

What the Horses See at Night

When the day-birds have settled
in their creaking trees,
the doors of the forest open
for the flitting
drift of deer
among the bright crosiers
of new ferns
and the legible stars;
foxes stream from the earth;
a tawny owl
sweeps the long meadow.
In a slink of river-light
the mink’s face
is already slippery with yolk,
and the bay’s
tiny islands are drops
of solder
under a drogue moon.
The sea’s a heavy sleeper,
dreaming in and out with a catch
in each breath, and is not disturbed
by that plowt ⎯ the first
in a play of herring, a shoal
silvering open
the sheeted black skin of the sea.
Through the starting rain, the moon
skirrs across the sky dragging
torn shreds of cloud behind.
The fox’s call is red
and ribboned
in the snow’s white shadow.
The horses watch the sea climb
and climb and walk
towards them on the hill,
hear the vole
under the alder,
our children
breathing slowly in their beds.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sharon Olds

Leningrad Cemetery, Winter of 1941

That winter, the dead could not be buried.
The ground was frozen, the gravediggers weak from hunger,
the coffin wood used for fuel. So they were covered with
and taken on a child’s sled to a cemetery
in the sub-zero air. They lay on the soil,
some of them wrapped in dark cloth
bound with rope like the tree’s ball of roots
when it waits to be planted; others wound in sheets,
their pale, gauze, tapered shapes
stiff as cocoons that will split down the center
when the new life inside is prepared;
but most lay like corpses, their coverings
coming undone, naked calves
hard as corded wood spilling
from under a cloak, a hand reaching out
with no sign of peace, wanting to come back
even to the bread made of glue and sawdust,
even to the icy winter and the siege.

Menno Wigman

Window-Cleaner Sees Paintings

Cars, laughter, noises: everything’s shut out
at seven up. All I hear is my sponge

and squeaky wheezing from the steel from which
I hang. Sometimes a cloud will speak to me

or I guess what a seagull has to say.
The humans: busy, pale, mute, behind glass.

At eight up art. That girl inside, that laugh,
who’s spied on her so much that she, immune

to compliments, thus looks into my face?
When does that sparrow-hawk escape its frame?

I’m hanging like an ice-cold painting here
that no one notices, I toil and wipe,

unveil the view once more – remake month
after month the unfaked clouds again.

Look. Now sunlight creeps into my frame.

* * *


Auto’s, gelach, geraas: alles slaat dood
op zeven hoog. Ik hoor alleen mijn spons

en het verkouden knarsen van het staal
waaraan ik hang. Soms spreekt een wolk mij aan

of gis ik wat een meeuw te zeggen heeft.
De mensen: druk, wit, stemloos, achter glas.

Op acht hoog kunst. Dat meisje daar, die lach,
wie heeft haar zo bespied dat ze immuun

voor complimenten mijn gezicht in kijkt?
En wanneer breekt die sperwer uit zijn lijst?

Ik hang hier als een ijskoud schilderij
waar niemand oog voor heeft, ik poets en zwoeg

en maak het uitzicht vrij – schilder er maand
na maand onvervalste wolken bij.

Kijk. Daar kruipt al zonlicht in mijn lijst.

Translated from the Dutch by John Irons, 2007