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Poem for August, 2017

Phenomenology for Dummies

....................for Charles Simic

The blue lips of the sheriff,
the news of winter-killed rose plants,
remind me to finger your dreams,
their trees and wistful vistas,
the tables piled with food,
bottles of wine crying drink me!
 
None of us has long, we hear,
and just so many poems left,
with more than enough dull moments
to sandwich in between.
Time to get up from the table,
take a stroll in the moonlight . . .
           
Soon enough, God knows,
everyone else will be asleep,
even the small-time demons,
while one of us will be sitting up,
next to a lamp and a moth,
keeping company with a book,
waiting for coffee and dawn.

rule

Poem for July, 2017

Landscape with Disappearing Poet

....................Miroslav Holub, 1923-1998

Global silence
in this village.
One rides
one’s bike
through clumsy twilight,
watched from deep shadows
by whitetail deer
who have been here three million years,
one of Pangaea’s eye-blinks.

Silence
in the global village.
A poet disappears, dogs
bark, cells and stars
howl silently, are born,
killed, replaced. Cesium
clocks race on, viruses
waltz with receptor cells . . .

In Pittsburgh,
a man on Medicaid, with a cirrhotic liver,
having nearly drunk himself to death,
thinks it’s unfair.
Why can’t he have a new liver?

A very poetic situation, you would say.
But you aren’t here to say it.

Globed
silence.

Motorcycles
race down Highway 58
like the black thoughts of ruptured steelworkers,
dolphins and sharks
play games in the blue deeps
where bottles of champagne
in tranquil shipwrecks
age at one-fourth their normal rate.

A diver may grasp a bottle
and bring it up to the air, the here and now,
pop the cork, enjoy it.

Here, in this globally
dislocated village,
your American hideout,
a heron flaps slowly and in silence
along the local watercourse
a little too tired to fly,
a little too tired to land,
while golfers take mighty swings
launching balls they will never recover.

Angels seem to fall
steadily
in a rain around barns and pastures
distressed by the way the cows
slump to their knees on the kill-floor,
as birds pull worms in graveyards
where human brains, neatly arranged,
lie unplugged in their cases,
and nude mice, in their cages,
sniff the air, always hopeful.

When a poet dies, you wrote,
a lone black bird wakes up in the thicket
and sings for all it’s worth,
while a black rain trickles down
like sperm or something.

Well, yes, and sometimes
there is just silence,
shipwreck silence,
hot July silence
like sperm or something,
in which the eggplants ripen but don’t hatch,
the modest weeds like chicory
flower along the roads,
mud-wasps construct
futuristic
gray hotels, and Japanese beetles
gleam like bronze lozenges
among the shredded roses.

Silence in the global
village. Again,
at dusk,
an opossum
tiptoes across the empty highway,
a mother, her pouched
babies born
the size of bees,
as though the placenta
was just a passing fashion.

Her prehistoric face
carries a very faint grimace
that may or may not be a smile,
like that of a master
who has just
passed over the River Styx,
joking a little with the boatman,
and found eternity
a little bit
to his liking.

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Poem for June, 2017

From "Broken Field Running" inIEarthshine, (1988):

3.

When Hare first heard about Death
he gnashed his teeth, went to his lodge,
and started screaming.

..........My aunts and uncles mustn’t die!

His thoughts went up to the cliffs and they started to crumble,
crawled across rocks and they shattered,
went down in the earth where everything stilled and stiffened,
glanced at the sky and birds crashed down, dead thoughts.

He went to his lodge, lay down,
and wrapped himself in his blanket.

..........Earth isn’t big enough.
..........It will be hard, all those dead,
..........and not enough earth to hold them!

And he lay there, wrapped in his blanket.

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Poem for May, 2017

The Fragrance of Orchids

The body that aches with longing
is drunk at dusk and again at dawn

these wild mutual yearnings
return to us each spring

there in the rain goes a messenger
bearing a passionate letter

under the open window
stands one with a broken heart

up in the mountains a lover
rolls up a pearl screen, looking out

sadness comes back and comes back
as fragrant and lush as the grass

and we’re all walking home in the dark
from banquets and celebrations

or watching the quiet dust
that sifts down from our roofbeams.

...........................Yu Xuanji, woman poet of the late Tang Dynasty

..................from The Clouds Float North, translated by David Young and ..................Jiann I. Lin, Wesleyan U. Press, 1998.

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Poem for April, 2017

from "The Light Show" III, 2:

Today the April light is fizzing.
The wind is blowing chunks of it around:
it oils pine needles, runs up tree trunks,
and spreads in clumps across the grass.
The grackles struggle darkly to resist it,
but it glosses their necks with purple and green
and slicks their beaks. I too
feel misery start to slip away – against my grain
I’m hoisted up into this giant light-machine
and swept away. My silver pen
skates on the yellow paper, my fingernails glow,
my eyes glisten with tears and pleasure.
A huge willow has fallen in my yard,
victim of wind. But today the other trees
are holding themselves up like song into a sky
that is blue with a radiance no one could imagine.

                          from Earthshine (1988)

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Poem for March, 2017

Dinner Time

Where a glass of red wine
glows on the sideboard

and a few potatoes in a dish,
floury, flecked with parsley,

shine in the taciturn dusk,
as voices are heard in the kitchen

through the noise of dishes and pots
while an old man in suspenders

holding a half-read newspaper
rubs a spoon on his shirt

holds it at arm’s length
to catch his own reflection.

                          from At the White Window (2000)

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Poem for Fabruary, 2017

The Bird Feeder

The snowy landscape’s mostly stunned and silent
except just here, where, busy as a mind,
a riot of arriving, leaving,
spinning, twitching, pecking, swirls around –
a splash of life, too intricate to graph.
 
Here in his red hood is the woodpecker,
folding his black and white-striped cloak behind him;
a waxwing coasts in for a perfect landing,
a mourning dove tries facing down a cardinal
over the fat black seed that lies between them.
 
Next comes the chickadee, riding his unseen wave,
the nuthatch, just as lucky upside down,
juncos and finches taking turns at thistle seed,
the bluejay screaming with sheer happiness . . .
A bush fills up with sparrows, then they vanish!
 
No wonder that I trudge around with sacks,
magic’s apprentice, chilly-fingered,
to stoke, re-stoke, this winter banquet;
it makes my mind wake up and speculate.
These seeds sustain me too. I soar.

                          Red Wheelbarrow

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Poem for January, 2017

The Poem of the Cold

Admit you tried to make it pretty.  Start again. Talk about the huge nails going in, the serene blows of the hammer.  Flocks migrate at great cost, animals crawl painfully into burrows.  A starving man chews on a bird’s nest, cursing.  It may be true that wonderful things go on – a polished haw swinging on a tree in the oxlike wind, an old woman splitting wood next to a sand-colored barn – but you must avoid these.  For you are the cold’s thin voice, that thickens everything else.  As you sing, warm things ball up, shrivel, stiffen.  Hands become mittens, heads become hoods. Shadows lose their outlines, gates lock, waterfalls hang silent as their own bad portraits.  And gradually, as you shiver and wince, your poem will grind to its own slow close, like the works of a twenty-five pound clock, freezing beside the overturned dog sled, the scattered supplies, the man whose face froze around his tears and beard, the five dead huskies.

                          from Work Lights (1977)

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Poem for December, 2016

December Fourth, 1974

Rainer Maria Rilke,
on this your ninety-ninth birthday
I make you the following presents:

a woodpecker's egg
roasted
in the flame of a small candle

an art nouveau jug
half full
from the wounds of your pretty
saints

the finger of a mummy
that will always point the way

a cloud of organ
sound a cloud
of orange and gold
butterflies
circling a pillar of salt

the nose of a pony that's
a trumpet a muscle a loaf

a poem by Tu Fu
that goes off like an old musket

the stunned
chain pickerel
I caught in a net this fall

oh the great big poppy of metaphor

the past and future for which you exchanged
my present your
present

I give it back, your present
that I keep finding and losing
red thread
angel's knuckle
smoke in the rafters. . . . . . crows

. . . . . . . . . . . .from The Names of a Hare in English (1979)

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Poem for November, 2016

My Father at Ninety-Four

When you have gone away for good
I think I’ll hang a mirror by the door
hoping that you can visit, quiet man,
sometimes as a bird, or a dawn,
or a cloud around the moon.
 
When the mirror is open and empty
and I happen to pass it myself,
say, in a fine October twilight,
you will be there too, sometimes,
behind my eyes, calm and resigned.
 
When I can no longer find you, hear you,
I will go see the Great Plains again
and walk around the places
you took me to, a dance
of trees, farms, people, sky.
 
Stone City, Strawberry Point,
Spearfish Canyon, Estes Park,
Lake of the Isles, Yellowstone,
Nebraska sandhills, Wyoming sky,
towns almost as lost as Mesa Verde.
 
A son and a father, still shy about touch,
I’ll pretend I can put my hand in yours
from a greater distance, like two men
who stand on separate hills and wave
as daylight goes on to its rest.
 
                        From At the White Window (2000)

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Poem for October, 2016

October Couplets

1
Again the cold: shot bolt, blue shackle,
oxalic acid, bleaching a rubber cuff,

a cow-eyed giantess, burning roots and brush,
the streak and smash of clouds, loud settling jays,

crows roosting closer – my older-by-one-year bones
have their own dull hum, a blues: it’s all plod,

but they want to go on, above timberline,
to boulders, florets, ozone, then go free

in the old mill that the wind and the frost run
all day all night under the gauze and gaze of stars.

2
Somewhere between sperm cell and clam shell
this space cruiser takes me places I’d rather

stay clear of: a planet all graveyard, mowed,
graveled and paved, bride-light and parson-shade,

or a milkweed, bitter, about to burst, or a dropped
acorn even a squirrel didn’t want, browning to black,

and I have to learn to relax with it all, to sing
“Where the bee sucks, there suck I,” though the lily

is sticky and choking, bees don’t suck, and the sting
is a greeting you never recover from.

3
“Steam of consciousness,” a student’s fluke,
makes me see a lake, linen-white at evening,

some amnesia-happy poet all curled up
sucking a rock at its black bottom;

oblivion tempts everyone, but I
would miss too much – whales and ticks,

the weather’s subtle bustle, blue crab clouds,
my kite rising, paper and sticks, a silver ember,

while the poem’s ghost waits by the empty band shell,
does a little tango, taps out its own last line.

4
But this fall rain, somehow both thread and button,
sewing itself to the malachite grass,

beading the clubs and brushes of the spruce –
all day I have sat as if gazing over water,

wind feathering the reservoir, stupid as a church,
and thought of summer: all those burst horizons,

mineral cities, rosy meat, clean seas and shaggy islands,
the wine cork popping in the grape arbor,

these things seem better and clearer and than gods just now,
raspberries hung like lamps among their brambles.

5
These leaves, these paper cutouts drifting my yard,
stars, fish, mitten, saddles: the badges and epaulets

of emptiness – last night in my dream
I was the killer, the guard who failed to stop him,

and the child who froze and was spared. Nothing lasts,
sang the crowd, and I answered, It sure does;

Is nothing sacred, roared the statesman – I do
believe it is, said I . . . I wake and shave,

still full of my dreamflood – oh skim milk sky,
oh brown star curling in my hand . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Foraging (1986), and in memory of Franz,
. . . . . . . . . . . . .who especially liked the 2nd section

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Poem for September, 2016

From “The Light Show,”
Poem in Three Parts,
Earthshine (1988)

3.
Gaze of Apollo that kindled Rilke
even in a headless torso.
....................................Maybe because
it was piecemeal.
..................We need shadows,
smoked glass, spiritual parasols. Caravaggio
knew how contingent light is, how
it comes from the wrong side, lighting
lovers and murderers indifferently.
......................................................Well, we are
star-ash. Residue. Cooling sizzle
from an old mayhem of the sun.

Galactic epigones and afterlights.

And we love light and shade,
color and just a little dazzle.
If I called you a feather on the breath of God,
you’d want to know what color? Right!
Different if it were white, in thin noon breeze,
or black, zigzagging through dusk’s pines,
or brown, at dawn, upon an olive river . . .

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Poem for August, 2016

Chopping Garlic

The bulb, an oriental palace
shrouded in gray and lavender paper,
splits open into a heap
of wedge-shaped packets housing
horns, fangs, monster toenails
all of a pungent ivory -- I
could string them into a necklace
but I smash them flat instead,
loving the crunch, brushing away
all the confetti – clouds
of odor bloom around me now
as I chop, this way and that,
with my half-moon blade
in the scooped wood
that will never completely lose
the fragrance that oils it, smears
my fingers, wants to be in
the pores of my skin forever . . .
trumpets and cymbals blare
as I dump the grainy mess
into the pan, oh, holy to the nose
are the incense and sizzle that summon
folks from all parts of the house
to ask about dinner, sniffing,
while up in one end of the sky
a crescent moon hangs crazily
a glowing clove,
a dangerous fragrance
filling the very corners
of some god's smiling mouth.


. . . . . . . . . . . . .from At The White Window (2000)

Requests to reprint this poem have been gratifying.

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Poem for July, 2016

An early poem, c. 1962
Landscape in Three Lights

Under the round clouds
the flowers lean and yawn
stiff to the wind; shreds
of plumblossom stain
one corner of lawn. Down
further a rabbit ponders
the scene, his small, drawn
face alert for intruders.
 
They come. All afternoon
in the dispersing light
groups of people in fine
clothes wander and chat;
they gesture, laugh, croquet
balls click, ice chinks, but turn
where they will, the rising night
surrounds their paper lanterns.
 
It is the past, this dark.
The people disappear, their
murmuring grows berserk
in the wind. And what’s left here?
Somebody’s drunk ancestor
walking home in the moon
through the stubble corn, past care,
humming an old tune.

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Poem for June, 2016 and November, 2008

A Ghost, to One Alive

There you sit, in the midst of your heart’s rich tick,
your breath coming and going,
a lax and happy piston;

your eyes blink, your tongue slicks your lips,
your brain hums, gobbling oxygen.
Oh hot, unconscious life . . .

I know I am hard to imagine –
a smoke bag, a spindle of mist, fume of an old fear-pot –
but you are just the opposite:

you ruin this sweet hush, two times too real,
and I find I have to drift back
from your clicks, wheezes and smells,

your mask of hope over a hopeless gape,
one eye on the wagging clock, muffled
amazement, bundle of hungers, oven stuffed with yourself!

If you knew a bit more you might envy me,
moon-scalded as I am,
voodoo-hooded and vague as cheesecloth,

a simulacrum of solid old you,
the last billow from a cold, closed furnace,
a dimple, at best, in existence,

the bird call without the bird.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Foraging (1986)

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Poem for May, 2016

Poem at Seventy
(First two sections)

Rick went to Shanghai and was invited
..........to meet the “stomach talker,” a spirit named Lingge
..........in an otherwise unremarkable young woman
who spoke from her stomach, talking like a three-year old,
..........but had been “everywhere in the world”
and knew “most languages.”
 
He asked should he be fearful for his children.
..........She said Do not be worried, just concerned.
 

He asked her why there was a universe.
..........She said That was just Nature’s way.
 

He went away skeptical . . . and much intrigued.
 
And when he told me about it
..........I remembered 1968, in London,
when we went to hear a medium,
..........Robert Bly and Michael Benedikt and I,
 
an ordinary middle-aged lady
..........who stood at a podium, as if to read some poems
or give a talk on politics or quilting
..........and she got “messages” for people in the audience.
 
She saw the auras round our heads and she saw spirits
..........who she said signaled to us, holding up tokens --
watches, violins, wedding rings.
 
I went away impressed and wondering
..........but later thought the whole thing rather silly
a net of weaved belief, made by those present,
especially those who’d suffered loss and wished to know
..........their dead were peaceful and forgiving.
 
All of those tokens were clichés.
 
I asked my wife if I might take her grieving father there
..........and she said, Absolutely not!
 
 

 ..................*
 
 Everyone knows that something lies beyond us,
something that just escapes our senses,
there’s a shadow, there’s a luminescence
a music we can nearly hear, a nimbus . . .
 
Sounds come over sometimes, tingling,
glimpses are granted at the edge of sleep
a voice that seems to call our name, a deep
flash of sudden understanding . . .
 
The ordinary world lights up, a dance,
its thick distractions fall away,
and you’re continuous with everything.
 
You can be wild, knowing this, and sing;
you can be matter-of-fact and day-to-day.
Your mood makes little difference.

..................from Field of Light and Shadow (2010)

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Poem for April, 2016

Swithin

Inside my dream the fair-haired ancient saint
who visited a group of living friends
gathered together in an English cottage
 
walked without stepping, read our thoughts,
spoke without need to use his mouth,
shone with a glow that didn’t hurt the eyes,
 
moved among those he blessed
smiling a riveting smile,
and felt, when he came to hug me,
 
not like another body but
not immaterial either, since
his fragrance was amazing.
 
When I was left alone in that dim room,
stroking a smoky cat and musing,
my mind charged up with wonder and relief,
 
it didn’t seem to me I’d been “converted”
but it did seem I’d had a glimpse of something
that would remember me when I forgot it.

..................from Black Lab (2006)

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Poem for March, 2016

Wind, Rain, Light

..................The drooling roof of an old barn overhead,
the sup and chuckle of water.
                                             Nineteen sixty-four
and it's spring, or the first cold edge of it.
..................We’ve started a child, Chloe and I,
my seed taking hold in her
                                         as roots wake
birds stir and puzzle out their nests,
nights shining weirdly,
                                   days wind-scoured.
..................Clear water rills and wrinkles in the gutters,
snowmelt, purposeful as bees.
..................The sunlight
blisters it, dazzles it,
                                plays its own music
on the water's harp and the sky stands still
to let the new clouds pass,
                                        white-knuckled.
..................I have my car, a Studebaker,
glinting, already obsolete, I race
straight down old Highway 20,
 ......................................................yelling Avanti!,
light-drunk, wind-riddled, energy
rolling in waves
..................across the furrowed fields
while the black storms of our separate deaths
are forming: hers, now passed,
mine on the flat horizon,
very far off, even his, the child's,
as the fetus blooms,
..................as life takes shape,
blackness too soft to understand,
blackness we go back to,
breathing deep, still deeper,
                                        cupfuls of air,
our lungs like double buckets in a well,
filling ourselves with air-shine, a faint mist
hovering all around us,
                                        drizzle, filament, bead,
wipers ticking and streams of April rain
crossing the hood and roof,
spinning off,
..................another line of storms approaching,
sheets and curtains, miles of rain
crossing the plains,
..................   wavering rise and fall,
crackle of lightning,
..................   thundery dust and leaves
whirl up to meet the downpour.
Lake Erie churning and all of Ohio
flattened by rain,
..................my car nosing like a boat
through spumes and side-blasts.
..................This
life!
..................I put my hand out,
                                        reaching toward
my own face mirrored in the car,
tears that stream and mingle with the rain,
great hive of separate drops,
.........................................temple of spray and light,
no longer needing to know
....................................what anything means

..................from At the White Windows (2000)

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Poem for February, 2016

Small Multiple Elegy

Tom goes by on his motorcycle.
 
I’d like to wave, but he’s already
disappeared over the hill.
Tiny now . . . tiny Tom.
 
’Bye, Tom.
 
It’s summer here, birds singing as
the dawn expands from pearl gray
to lemon yellow.
 
Dead poets show up at dawn.
 
Here’s Miroslav, watching a spider
build its web.
 
Here’s Kenneth Koch, who died last
week, sitting quietly, hands folded.
 
Here’s Shahid, fixing his ghazals,
obsessed with Kashmir, keeping
suffering at arm’s length.
 
Tom goes by on his motorcycle.

..................from Black Lab (2006)

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Poem for January, 2016

Hymn to the eye from
Names of a Hare in English (1979):

eye,
 
strange that your name should be an ideogram,
two peepers with a crooked beak between;
an on beyond the thing itself
a jelly bleb, bubble of stare,
loll-in-a-socket, goggle-in-a-purse;
the little leak that floods the cave:
 
I came to the rim of the crater
to see where it lay asleep
under its flaps and dark spike fence
(work never stops in the observatory),
then it jumped open and I ran home,
back to the name, hearing behind me:
 
I am blue. My name is Helen.
Haply I squeeze a tear
and it rolls away with a wet spoor.
In the dark hole where all of you go 
you will not need me. See?

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Poem for December, 2015

The Snow Bird

Not a bird made of snow, but the snow itself --
snow is a bird.
 
Most of the feathers are unbelievably small,
lit from within.
 
Crisscrossing branches all through the woods
and the bird
 
falling among them, flying among them,
calling its no-call.
 
A squirrel scribbles the page of the yard.
The bird hides, white.
 
Falling by day, by night, needing no rest,
making the world its wing --
 
making the clouds its perch, the sweep and stitch,
the glare-hush . . .

                     from At the White Window (2000)

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Poem for November, 2015

Reading Yannis Ritso in November

A basket of apples, a bunch of carrots,
a poppy recognized as summer’s wristwatch . . .
Sunlight and suffering, the old Greek way --
the new one too – did not desert him;
 
in prison, out of it, he drew and mused and wrote,
cherished small things that never went away,
and dreamed a revolution too, that never came,
the lit mirage of a just and ordered city.
 
Here in Ohio snow will be falling again,
and I’m back to a night in 1957,
walking out of a dorm in Minnesota
 
and seeing Northern Lights across the heavens,
banners and shimmering folds of green and rose,
indifferent to our wondering, upturned faces.

                     from "Occational Sonnets" in Field of Light and Shadow

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Poem for October, 2015

My Mother at Eighty-Eight

Shrunken like an old sweet apple
out of a half-forgotten orchard,
her mind as hollow as an apple seed,
she greets me now, her middle child,
without the least idea of who I am.
 
Her eyes glitter. Nothing behind them.
 
Or has she journeyed to a prairie
where all our codes and grids have been abandoned,
no houses, no towns, no roads -- clear sky,
a few clouds riding aimlessly across it,
and a bird or two, meadowlarks probably,
tossing around in its depths? 

                      from At the White Window (2000)

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Poem for September, 2015

              LEDA

When you’re only a second-string
nymph, and you want to be up there with
the Immortals, you’ll do anything
to get into a myth.
 
This guy with wings on his hat
and feet – I think he was gay –
came round for a little chat
and I said, “Okay,
 
what do I  do?” He whispers in
my  ear, very mysterious.
I didn’t believe him! “With a swan??”
He was serious.

                      An early poem, never collected.
                      Appeared in Satire Newsletter.

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Poem for August, 2015

“It’s a Whole World, the Body. A Whole World!”

                       ---  Swami Satchidananda
 
1
No, it’s a tenement.
You enter from the top,
feeling your way down the bad stairs,
sniffing.
 
Someone is practicing
on a rubber piano
in the elbow.
 
Gangsters in the stomach,
splitting their loot.
 
These peeling walls, these puddles,
babies screaming in the back,
shoulder arguing with neck.
 
There’s a big party in the groin;
you aren’t invited.
 
2
Or it’s open country.
Steady rivers, muscular pastures,
deep weeds, foothills.
 
Nobody lives off
the fat of the land.
 
Huge clouds come up without warning:
brainstorms.
 
 
3
Say it’s an ocean.
Ladies wade there, shuddering.
Surgeons pass in their yachts.
 
Hiccup: a message
in a bottle.
 
The pervert descends
in his submarine.
 
 
4
Swami, the body’s a butcher shop,
a family lost in a wax museum,
moonless planet, ancient civilization,
a swami, a world,
seldom whole.

                       from Boxcars (1973) and in memory of James Tate

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Poem for July, 2015

Three Walks

1. Near “Appleby,” Axminster, Devon. June, 1982
A path, garden, a country lane,
with a very old lady and her daughter,
the whole evening holding tremulous
as though it might never end.
A codger watering his broccoli
talks up the art of gardening as
we gaze at his cabbages and gooseberries.
By his garden wall and along the lane
foxglove is speechlessly in bloom,
herb Robert, hogweed, eglantine,
everything, even the grass and cuckoo-spittle,
touched with the slow welling-up of life.
When we come back I hear again
some thrush in the deep shade
making a music as intricate
as what we were walking through.
 
 
2. Near Arcidosso, Tuscany. July 1979
Maybe I like this city for being
nearly unknown, off in the mountains.
Over and over the cuckoo calls from the chestnuts
this sleepy midday. Red and lemon posters
for a circus, ORFEI, plaster every  wall,
and I can imagine a humdrum Orpheus
ambling the narrow street to the bakery,
pausing to stare
at the round fountain where a stone mask
blows a thin rope of water
into a basin, a rope without ends.
He would climb to the old castle,
baking in sunshine, where
the air is alive with bees
that build in the crumbling masonry.
What would he make of it all? Would he stand,
his eyes blurring with tears,
looking back through the smoke of time
at the women and men, come and gone,
who have seen how the earth is lovely
and seen how its meanings desert them?
 
 
3. Near Lorain and Oberlin, Ohio. July 1982
Backward and forward in time, as if
by way of England and Italy, I’ve come
to stand in the K-mart parking lot
while Cassiopeia hangs askew
beyond the cornfields, come to hear doves
calling all morning in the rain
like very tired cuckoos.
Tomorrow, the Fourth of July, I’ll go
mushroom-gathering in the cemetery
to the rumble of summer thunder
among the distant dead, Huron Weed, Amanda Peabody,
and the newer dead I knew, George Lanyi, Jean Tufts,
and if it’s not so time-caressed
still I will pause there, startled,
as though I stood on my own heart
in nature’s haunted house,
as again, in the long-drawn evening,
with the fireflies signaling –
commas, hyphens, exclamation marks –
and the skyrockets in the distance –
foxgloves, fountains, bees,
constellations and mushrooms
hung for a second or two 
on the dim sky above the trees.

                       from Foraging (1986) and in memory of David Love

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Poem for June, 2015

One Who Came Back

. . . . . . . . . . . .
for Franz Wright

I can’t be sure
why we should want you among us
 
you with your bruised clothes
your fingers thickened by pity
 
terror’s night watchman, mopping blood
where the books lie stitched with quiet
 
who stood in the grass near the graves
striking the match of darkness
 
but I know we seem to need you
the way we do bread or warmth
 
so I’m out here in the moonlight
pounding nails in your footprints

as if that could make you stay.

. . . . . . . . ..from The Names of a Hare in English (1979)

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Poem for May, 2015

The Poem Against the Horizon

In a dim room above the freightyards, next to an old brass bed, an angel is taking off his wings. He winces a little as he eases the straps that run down into his chest: the beat of the wings is the beat of the heart.
 
Out of harness, the heart rolls over now. Panting like a wrestler. Such love, such soaring! Spokane and back. So good to come down, home to this room with the stained lace curtains and the sound of switch engines. So good to remove the wings, the love, the yoke the blood must wear as it paces, oxlike, the circle of its day . . .

He sleeps on his side in the overalls he was too tired to take off. Outside the window, rain runs and drips from the eaves. Overhead, the wind and the black sky belong to someone else.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..from Work Lights (1977)

                for Rick Bursky

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Poem for April, 2015

Walking Home on an Early Spring Evening

Every microcosm needs its crow,
something to hang around and comment,
scavenge,
alight on highest branches.
 
Who hasn’t seen the gnats,
the pollen grains that coat the windshield ---
who hasn’t heard the tree frogs?
 
In the long march that takes us all our life,
in and out of sleep, sun up, sun gone,
our aging back and forth, smiling and puzzled,
there come these times: you stop and look,
 
and fix on something unremarkable,
a parking lot or just a patch of sumac,
but it will flare and resonate
 
and you’ll feel part of it for once,
you’ll be a goldfinch hanging on a feeder,
you’ll be a river system all in silver
etched on a frosty driveway, you’ll
 
say ‘Folks, I think I made it this time,
I think this is my song.’ The crow lifts up,
its feathers shine and whisper,
 
its round black eye surveys indifferently
the world we’ve made
and then the one we haven't.

..................from Black Lab (2006)

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Poem for March, 2015

March 10, 2001

Three crisscrossed daffodils
faint lamps in the rubble
 
where without any warning
I’m shattered by your absence
 
wondering will I always
blunder into this emotion
 
so large and mute it has no name
-- not grief   longing   pain
 
for those are only its suburbs
its slightly distracting cousins --
 
summoned just now by these
frilled blossoms
 
butter yellow horns
on lemon yellow stars
 
indifferent    innocent
charging in place
 
advance guard of a season 
when I will join you.

..................from Black Lab (2006)

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Poem for February, 2015

The Hour of Blue Snow

Dusk on these late winter days
is a matter of daylight giving a little shrug,
then vanishing.
 
But when it does, the blue snow moment comes.
 
That’s when, for instance, two or three deer
materialize from nowhere, stroll through the backyard,
and vanish in the woods. As when the ancient gods
came down to wander their enchanted world.
 
Then I remember to breathe again,
and the blue snow shines inside me. 

..................from Black Lab (2006)

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Poem for January, 2015

Lullaby for the Elderly

Under the hum and whir of night, under the covers, deep in the bed, beyond all the calling of doves, past the great flares of love and pain, the daily bread and grind, it’s warm as a pot, soft as a breast. It’s the deep woods, the place where you come to a clearing, find the still pool, and slip gently into it -- to bathe,  to dive, to drown.
 
Your mother is there, under the leaves, smelling of milk, and your father is hiding among the trees. A giant hand tousles your hair, and the mouse is there with its dangerous eyes, the bear with his shimmering fur, the rivers that thunder off ledges and spill into gorges as mist.
 
When you wake, refreshed, murmur a blessing for those who have never returned.  Say a word to the corn and the wheat, to the deer and squirrels and whistling toads, who brought you right up to the edge of the woods and let you go in on your own. 

..................from At the White Window (2000)

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Poem for December, 2014

While this poem is exactly fifty years old,
the mystery of divinity has not changed for me!

On Neglecting to Baptize a Child

Now that our son is come,
The house turns mythic:
Milk drips from the eaves,
Leaves grow in the attic.

At dusk great kings drift in
To serenade us.
The plumbing drums; like priests
The radiators hiss.

Christmas is near; we three
Enact in parody,
Like figures in a crèche,
Scenes of nativity.

It’s not the same, thank God,
It’s simpler mystery.
What do we know, all told,
Of immortality?

Have we deceived our friends
Having no christening?
We feel, root, branch, and bud,
Our lives turn evergreen.

..................1964

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Poem from October, 2007 and October, 2014

October’s Stem and Head-Piece

I’ve carved this pumpkin with a moonslice grin
and star-shaped eyeholes. I want him to go rolling
among the reaches of the universe, hung glitter,

and let the spirits spinning on themselves
among the ice, the burning dust, the gulfs,
the inky gasses, streaky bursts of starlight,

know how this blue sky and this honey locust
are just what the great gods would have booked
if they could order up a world of form and color.

I want him hinting of the wells of being here
quenching the greatest thirsts, those wells we taint
when we forget we need to sing the death-chant

that wraps me now, as I flush seeds and pulp and strings
into the rippling creek, then hurl the cerebellum
into the brush where nobody will find it.

All night the sallow face smiles at clouds,
licking the cream, winking at the wolves,
as pinprick after pinprick fills the sky.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from At the White Window (2000)

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Poem for September, 2014

This poem just appeared in Miramar 2. My thanks!

August Notes

1. Tomas Tranströmer
 
I fell asleep naked in my bed.
In sleep I was helpless, and safe.
 
I dreamed of a tree, roots and crown,
I dreamed of the tide moving in.
 
In my dream I rushed forward toward death
and was joyous, naked, and safe.
 
 
 
2. Is the self like a flock of birds?
 
The gulls fly past, fifteen together,
just a few feet above smooth Lake Erie.
 
They are like one large creature, 
made up of fragments, coherent in movement.
 
And we are fragments too, of time and feeling,
loosely joined in this morning sun.
 
 
 
3. Baudelaire and his correspondences
 
As if you were a camera, roaming
dim deserted hospital corridors.
 
As if the meteors, brighter than tear-tracks,
flashed each August across night sky.
 
As if that big hawk, flushed near dusk,
from the trees that line the field . . .

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Poem for August, 2014

The Reapers

Cutting the graveyard grass
was a way to survive our
summer vacations, routine
soon enough, loud slow trips
through a town of headstones,
mausoleums, occasional
solitary grievers.
Funeral processions were short
holidays from work, new graves
were that much less to mow.
 
So we whiled away our
immortal afternoons, trailing
blue fumes and grass flakes,
dreaming of weekend
girls, beer, drive-ins,
and rode back and forth
on strange machines
above the uninteresting dead,
mowing, endlessly mowing,
emblems
of what we could not understand.

. . . ......... . . . .......(An early poem I still like, from
. . . . . ........ . ...... Sweating Out the Winter
(1968).

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Poem for July, 2014

Three sections from Night Thoughts

Growing older, you listen more
to memory’s concertina,
squeezing time in and pulling it out.
 
I look at our darkened house,
everyone sleeping, unless my son
is still stretched out and reading . . .
 
I scratch a burnt match backward, flame
gathers itself to a blue-tipped matchhead
and time folds back, collapses.
 
I walked yesterday in the graveyard
where Chloe’s ashes are buried.
I had it, I think, to myself.
 
A hot wind rushed and shoveled its way
through the giant oaks. Dragonflies
circled the small scummed pond.
 
Late summer’s an in-between time.
Love for the dead and the living
began to expand and bewilder me.
 
Strike a match here and a firefly answers,
cool gleams rise and fall
in my friendly, unfriendly yard.
 
The Chinese like to say
fireflies haunt fresh graves,
small tears that blink and wheel.
 
                        ¶
 
A plane blinks by above me,
thoughts bunch and float, the local owl
hoots twice, a memory signals,
raspberries ripen
and dew begins to coat my sneakers –
night’s a good time for seeing.
 
Water-gleam, Plum Creek, frog – another pair
of upturned eyes. Sight bubbles,
bulges and bumps,
momentary domes afloat on rain-pocked streams,
those iridescent clusters at the tide line
that slide and skate as wind and wave decide,
 
fragility’s stubborn clutch
of gene pools, breeding cells,
egg and seed cascades,
gnats that hatch and die within a day,
and hearsay: word-throngs
rushing here and there by starlight.
 
                        ¶
 
I sidle and slide toward our new screened porch
to murmur a night-hymn to Georgia:
 
You and I
know love can be
so open, so complete
it’s breathing a different air,
it’s coming out
into a light-struck world.

 
And we know
how fragile this mixture is,
scratch of a match,
flaring and winking out,
night-blooms in a frost-invaded garden.

 
There goes another meteor . . .
A whiz without the bang.
 
Imagination’s stubborn,
Eros is kind of tongue-tied,
Nature turns her back, its back.
I’m left with meteor streaks,
thinking how Shakespeare got much closer:
 
Ruine hath taught me thus to ruminate:
That time will come and take my love away.

 
Now the new moon’s setting,
through trees that keep their counsel.
 
A Japanese beetle trap, bright yellow,
sways on the branch of a juniper bush
we cut down more than two years ago,
a bush that can’t be there,
and the night’s black glass surrounds me.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..from Night Thoughts and Henry Vaughan (1994)

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Poem for June, 2014

How Music Began

Well the wind blew so hard
that the sea blistered and snapped.
Even the boulders were squeaking.

Trolls scuffled and spat, whacking thick
bones on hollow oaks, screaming for meat,
and birds nattered in every thicket.

Women in birth pangs howled. Bitter couples
shattered cups, jugs and beakers, while children
slithered on ice among grit and cinders.

dot

Then thunder set off the landslide.
Bushes with dead birds tumbled
through blasted air. You couldn’t hear

how bones and trees were splintered,
how boulders struck sparks, how the ice
burst, taking some of the children.

dot

Then quiet grew up. Like cave pools,
cocoons. Like very old temples at noon.
Nursing. Fruitfall. Sketching the buffalo.

And then it was easy to consider
smoke a bird twisting up
that might sing as the earth got smaller.


. . . . . . . . . . . . . .In memory of Ed Miller, who composed a fine setting of it.

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Poem for May, 2014

Midwestern Families

Rummaging through drawers for socks and underwear,
            finding them full of little people --
            some lie there quietly,
            others thrash.
 
Possessions – a weathered house, a tipped barn,
            studs and cufflinks,
            the pond with its glowing images,
            slumped boots.
 
Your breath and my breath
            matched as we sleep,
            our slow hearts pumping
            the same soft thumps and swishes.
 
We never go wholly alone --
            the solitary bee, deep in the flower,
            is part of a restless colony,
            never quite absent.
 
The dish and the mirror ponder each other,
            the twister sings to itself in the distance,
            days pass, nights glitter,
            no one forgets the hymns.
 
Father picks up his pitted watch from the dresser
            walks out in the cool morning  . . .
            there stands a row of phantom little girls
            hair-bows, starched pinafores, blinking.
 
Clouds flower slowly,
            vermilion and saffron in the west,
            while the moon rises, a white plate,
            over fields of mesmerized wheat.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..from At the White Window (2000)

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Poem for April, 2014

Landscape with Grief Train

Such a huge locomotive, the grief train,
panting, ugly, shiny and black,
but it has many cars to pull
and a very long distance to travel.

Miraculously, it needs no fuel,
having the one event, or many,
to keep it going for eternity
-- or however long you imagine.

Sometimes you see it at crossings.
You’re headed somewhere else.
Perhaps you’ve been laughing a lot,
or just come from seeing a movie.

The great thing about it, of course,
is its steadiness and drive. You forget it,
and still it is going to be out there,
snaking through mountain passes,

rushing all night next to white-flecked rivers,
hooting its soundless whistle,
and sending on up toward the stars
its smoke, which is pungent and cold.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..from At the White Window (2000)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ... ..And in memory of Tom Linehan and Tom Young

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Poem for March, 2014

The Secret Life of Light

1
Reading The Secret Life of Dust,
learning about
the “wispy disk” of cosmic dust
that circulates around the sun and that
“on rare occasions you can see
a glowing slice of this
‘zodiacal light,’”
described by an astronomer
named G. Cassini, 1683,
I realize that I’ve seen it!
 
Way out above the sea, a shining wedge
we couldn’t figure out as we came down
at dusk from our big climb
to Santa Croce.
 
We were so lost and tired that our view,
the Golfo Paradiso all spread out
from Genoa to Portofino mountain,
made hardly any sense,
although we had to venerate the sea
a sheet of hammered metal
in mute and muting light
as we stepped down the path
as carefully as pack mules,
hurrying to get back
to where we’d have
our bearings once again
before the dark closed in.
 
David Carlson, you said the odd
inverted pyramid with blurry corners,
might be a UFO. Janine and I
thought it was some strange opening in clouds.
Well, now we know, we pilgrims,
who had been past the Stations of the Cross
going and coming, and had talked about
the pious folk who climbed up on their knees
on special days, at dawn,
up to that little church
that stands so high and barren . . .
 
 
2
Now we know what? That in a world
where superhuman meanings have been drained
we take our best encounters with the things
that are not human, don’t belong to us,
the “zodiacal light” just one more sign
that points back to itself, or at the best
to its own cosmic history:
our origins in dust,
that cloud that once congealed
enough to form a star
that then became our sun
and then helped form the earth
and still rains down around us,
still lights up the sky,
a burning golden triangle
around the autumn equinox
above the sea beyond
the port of Genoa.
 
Comets go past, and we don’t notice,
asteroids just miss us by two moon lengths,
the sun burns on, throwing gigantic flares and flowers,
we fill our eyes and word-hoards,
pick our way down mule trails,
 and trust that somehow we belong to this,
the life of secret dust,
and it makes sense, somehow.
 
I might have spoken to that glow.
“Oleh,” I might have said. “Grandfather.”
I might have fallen to my knees, for once.
Ashes to ashes. Secret life. And dust
and light, a little light,
is maybe all we have?
 
 
3
I think I’d like to write
The Sacred Life of Dust,
but I don’t have the means.
Parked along a back road,
I’m jotting all this down
on old prescription pads
and one much-crumpled shopping list,
a January day,
the sun a dimming disk;
the radio is offering
the best thing that could happen,
“Das Musikalische Opfer,”
Bach’s canons that perform
like crabs, mirrors, comets,
and I’ll go on about my errands now,
something for our dinner,
something from the pharmacy.
 
A blue jay soars up to an apple branch
in one unfolding movement
and I look on in shock,
as if I’d never seen
a living thing that flies!
 
Part of me stays on earth,
part of me rises with the jay.
 
The day rolls forward toward
the secret life of dusk.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..from Black Lab (2006)

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Poem for February, 2014

It's the Year of the Horse! Du Fu wrote this at the age of 21:

Fang's Amazing Horse

One of those famous
Mongolian horses
 
supple and wiry
built for speed
 
ears erect
like bamboo shoots
 
hoofs that seem
to ride the wind
 
you can go anywhere
on this one
 
trust him
with your life
 
you feel you’re flying
and you cover
 
enormous distances
in just one day.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..from Du Fu, A Life in Poetry (2008)

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Poem for January, 2014

Chloe in Late January

Midwinter here, a frozen pause, and now
some nineteen years since cancer took your life.

This month’s old god, they say, faced opposite directions,
backward and forward. May I do that too?

It’s much the same. Deer come and go, as soft
as souls in Hades, glimpsed at wood’s edge toward dusk;
their tracks in daylight show they come at night
to taste my neighbor’s crab trees, last fall’s fruit
shrunk down to sour puckered berries.

And where, in this arrested world,
might I expect to meet your cordial spirit?

You would not bother with that graveyard, smooth
below its gleaming cloak of snow. You’d want
to weave among the trees, beside the tiny kinglet,
gold head aglow, warming itself
with ingenuities, adapting, singing,
borne on the major currents of this life
like the creek that surprised me yesterday again,
running full tilt across its pebbled bottom
even in this deep cold.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..from Black Lab (2006)

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Poem for December, 2013

Nineteen Sixty-three

The year the president was killed
Was the same my friend was shot
On a Washington street one night
For his white skin and wallet.
 
What we can’t bear we bury.
I got so I thought I could
Stand the abruptness if only
There were some final word.
 
But when he returned in a dream,
Dying and white like Gracchus,
And there was a chance to explain,
We were both shy and speechless.
 
Then I grew light with wonder
Watching beside the bed.
My stubbornness fell away
For I thought I understood
 
That he wouldn’t elect to live
Here at the end of the myth
If he could, and I smiled and said,
“You’re the President of Death.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Sweating Out the Winter

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Poem for November, 2013

Four About Metaphysics

Who can hold a fire in his hand? You spread your fingers. Ideally, they should be made of a substance like cork, and your palm a substance like hooves. Or antlers. A stag can poke his horns right into a furnace, can’t he? Even if he can’t, he probably thinks he can, whereas we feel vulnerable in the presence of vast spaces, extreme conditions. That far-flung glitter through which the midget spaceship floats. Or the frosty Caucasus. Or the snapped axle of a covered wagon halfway across the desert. Or the excitement of seeing whales surface by lanternlight. All around you. In the dark Pacific. If you didn’t have to consider the boat capsizing and the light going out. If you were the boat and your hand its own unquenchable lantern.

square


A glass of water and an onion for his supper, the Spanish visionary sat at his table in the future. Ultimate secrets were streaming from the monastery. A rowboat was crossing the very blurred lake. Sex, for him, was just an impolite kind of staring. But the blue-eyed countess did not seem to mind. Millions of things sought to claim his attention, and he tried to look beyond them. Remembering this sentence: “The sea is as deepe in a calme as in a storm.”

square


To one side a thin church, flying a flag or a pair of pants. In the distance a castle from which a flock of rooks streams up in a spreading wedge. Someone fumbling with a barrel. And at a long table before a peeling house, people are talking, eating, fighting, kissing. Noticed by a dog, one main is vomiting. A group of musicians can be seen through the smoke from the cooking fire. About to appear from over the hill, someone like Tamburlaine or Genghis Khan.

square


“How fortunate for Alabama,” I thought. I was turning the pages of a book that resembled a piece of ice. Rapidly, as if I feared it would melt. I passed the song, the
recipe, the sermon, the code, and the questionnaire. I passed the sketch of the wrestler, flexing his muscles and sobbing. I passed the poem about shooting stars and puritan names. I was searching for the story that begins: “God was not even allowed to touch Mary. It seemed to him sometimes that if he could just take her face in his hands, the-world would reassemble itself with excitement. But he did not. Meanwhile, the seed…” And so on. I could not find that story. I came instead to this.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Work Lights (1977)

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Poem from October, 2008 and for October, 2013

Autumn Ghazal

Dressed all in cornshucks, I thread the marsh & meadow.
The rain comes widdershins. The brain's a sopping pumpkin.

Now meet Jack Bones, the tramp, & Hazel, the dusty witch;
His vinegar sizzle, her dripping crock of honey.

There's counterstress for walnut-crack. Light like a knife
Stuck in an apple. There's banging of cutlery and plates.

Blueface stares at Bloodyface. Oily hands tear bread.
Miles of high-tension wires. Smoke haze, asphalt scuffle.

What are those frosty weeds? What's this smashed cottage?
Who dumped the soup of life? Who cracked this cheval glass?

Coming up from the lead-mine, seeing the bean-curd clouds,
Hearing the bruise-owl call, shopping for winter candles . . .

Sleep condescends. Light rills across wet spiderwebs.
It takes eight days to wheel this bulkhead into place.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from The Planet on the Desk (1991

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Poem from September, 2013
Two Villanelles

. . . . . . Exceptions to the Rule

Baboons were preening, and the sun was setting.
I put my hand on your delicious thigh.
For each remembering, there was forgetting.

The cheetahs in the park are not for petting.
A villanelle is hanging out to dry.
Baboons are preening and the sun is setting.

We try to sleep beneath mosquito netting,
Ignoring the disguises of the sky.
For each remembering we know of a forgetting.

That handsome poet might have just been vetting
A line or two, to add to his supply
While baboons keened and a red sun was setting.

It’s no good asking Death if he is letting
Apartments in his graveyards. You must buy.
There’ll be remembering, but more forgetting.

Ta-ta, old tropics of our youth. No fretting.
As we sail northward, trying to wave goodbye,
Baboons are preening and the sun is setting.
For each remembering, there’s also a forgetting.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from At the White Window


. . . . . . Exceptions to the Rule

We’ve only just met and I miss you already –
Distracted, I think of just you, only you.
I track you on surfaces. Where is your beauty?

I waited forever, millenia heady
With longing, skies black and skies blue.
We’ve only just met and I miss you already.

I’ve never lost hope in my waiting, my duty,
And it doesn’t matter that I can’t quite touch you.
I track you on surfaces. Where is your beauty,

What world has it gone to, to shelter its body,
And will it reward me for being so true?
We’ve only just met and I miss you already.

I feel like a mountain – that huge and that steady –
I feel that my mind is expanded and new.
We’ve only just met and I miss you already.
I track you on surfaces. Where is your beauty?

. . . . . . . . . . after Carlos Germain Belli

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..from Black Lab

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Poem from August, 2013
A Sonnet from the Sequence, "Cloudstown Lightfall"

A Cloudstown painter, I make a huge canvas.
In the foreground, gigantic, three fireflies
against a lush green summer dusk.
Two are glowing, one has just winked out,
 
here and gone, a yellow-greenish light.
The middle distance thronged with smoke-bushes,
Roses of Sharon, majestic weeds in crowds;
the far background oaks and ample maples.
 
Notice the night hawks, the wakeful bats
in the painting’s upper edges, etched against sky
mixing with nine moonlit, drifting clouds,
 
and constellations faint, mostly beyond the frame.
Step into the painting, take a deep breath, sigh, 
go forward like a cloud, a ghost, a firefly.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from At the White Window

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Poem from July, 2013

Half of Life

The land with yellow pears
and full of wild roses,
hangs there in the lake
among you, gracious swans,
and you are drunk with kisses as
you dip your graceful heads
in holy sober water.
 
Where am I going to find
come winter, all these flowers,
where will the sunshine be
and earth’s shade to go with it?
The walls stand up before me,
speechless, cold, and the wind
rattles the weathervanes.

Translated by David Young from the German of Friedrich Holderlin

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Poem from June, 2013

An early poem by Du Fu,
from my book Du Fu, a Life in Poetry:

Writing Poems After Dinner at The Zuo's

A crescent moon has set
behind the windy forest

outside, an untouched lute
grows wet with dew

unseen, gurgling, the little creek
winds among the flowers

over the thatched roof
thousands of spring stars.

___

We look up words in books
by the candles’ shrinking light

we sip our cups and praise
our host’s ancestral sword

our poems done, we chant them,
using the Wu dialect

I will remember best
the mention of Fan Li’s boat.

_________

(Hung 1). Candles were sometimes used to time a poetry contest. Fan Li’s boat: refusing rewards for his service to the state, Fan Li (ca. 5th century BCE) climbed into a little boat and sailed away. Already the alternative life makes its appearance.

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Poem from May, 2013

The Fools Tale

When I said goodnight to the old gaffer
he suddenly flew away laughing!
 
In the woods I came on a blood-red boar
and a burnt hunter, locked in a stare,
 
as at Christmas when animals fell on their knees
while the nail and the hammer told them lies.
 
Magic! So much! You clutch your poor head,
a barrel of rainberries falls from a cloud,
 
a dwarf whose face is covered with fur
steals your watch, purse, and painted guitar
 
and a very great darkness covers the earth,
thunder and lightning live at your hearth . . .
 
No! Hush! It’s gone absolutely still –
the stone drops forever into the well,
 
and a sly little girl with a hood and a muff
walks down the road with a timberwolf.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .The Names of a Hare in English (1979)

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Poem from April, 2013

In Heaven

There
where the self is a fine powder
drifting free

simply by wishing
you can be
whatever you like:
a fish swiped by a bear’s paw
a woman whose son is insane
a spear in the side of a tiger

They do not feast there
they do no hymn perfection or
the ecstasies of love

for their own reasons
they care most
to assume the shapes of suffering:

helicopters swooning into clearings
through crossfire, burning

or an old hare
limping across
a stripped field
in late November.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .Boxcars (1973)

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Poem from March, 2013

Posted in remembrance of Nemo, 2002-2013,
my regular companion on my walks.


Walking Around Retired in Ohio

ooooooooooooooooooooooooAfter Lu Ji

I wake up at dawn these days,
called by an unknown voice,
heart racing,
get up and dress, then hesitate –

there isn’t anywhere I have to go!

___

Think of a recluse, living in a gorge:
he spends a morning picking watercress,
sits on a hill to watch the sunset . . .

branches above him, clouds above the branches,
kingfisher green, kingfisher blue,
wind shouldering through honeysuckle
and you lose yourself in fragrance . . .

the small creek bubbles, slightly pensive,
echoes back from the ridge . . .

___

Wealth is absurd and fame’s a filthy habit.
People who chase these things are addicts.

Joy can’t be faked, joy is just there,
was there all along, unscrolled itself
when you lost your urge to control
the many systems you would never master.

____

Get out of your car. Here’s the Wildlife Preserve,
floating and humming with life.

The great big day, the new one.
Pines. Geese. A quizzical raccoon.

Weeds, clouds, birdsong, cicada buzz.
Now let the weather lead you. Walk

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Poem from February, 2013 

Winter Remembered

by John Crowe Ransom

Two evils, monstrous either one apart,
Possessed me, and were long and loath at going:   
A cry of Absence, Absence, in the heart,   
And in the wood the furious winter blowing.

Think not, when fire was bright upon my bricks,   
And past the tight boards hardly a wind could enter,   
I glowed like them, the simple burning sticks,   
Far from my cause, my proper heat and center.

Better to walk forth in the frozen air
And wash my wound in the snows; that would be healing;   
Because my heart would throb less painful there,   
Being caked with cold, and past the smart of feeling.

And where I walked, the murderous winter blast   
Would have this body bowed, these eyeballs streaming,   
And though I think this heart’s blood froze not fast   
It ran too small to spare one drop for dreaming.

Dear love, these fingers that had known your touch,   
And tied our separate forces first together,
Were ten poor idiot fingers not worth much,   
Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather.

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Poem from January, 2013

 After Fujiwara no Teika

Lots of level land along this coast,
but no spring flowers,
no, nor dazzling maples.
Instead, fall evening coming on,
I see that plain straw hut
down by the water, roof and walls,
blaze in the light of the setting sun.

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Poem from December, 2012

Black Labrador

1.
Churchill called his bad visits from depression
a big black dog. We have reversed that, Winston.
We’ve named him Nemo, no one, a black hole
where light is gulped—invisible by night:
by day, when light licks everything to shine,
a black silk coat ablaze with inky shade.
He’s our black lab, wherein mad scientists
concoct excessive energy. It snows,
and he bounds out, inebriate of cold.
The white flakes settle on his back and neck and nose
and make a little universe.

2.
It’s best to take God backwards; even sideways
He is too much to contemplate, “ a deep
but dazzling darkness,” as Vaughan says.
And so I let my Nemo-omen lead me
onward and on toward that deep dark I’m meant
to enter, entertain, when my time comes . . .
The day wheels past, a creaky cart. I study
the rippling anthracite that steadies me,
the tar, the glossy licorice, the sable;
and in this snowfall that I should detest,
late March and early April, I’m still rapt
to see his coat so constellated, starred, re-starred,
making a comic cosmos I can love.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .2002

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Poem from November, 2012
 
Late November: The Wolves at the Cleveland Zoo

We walked in the cold at the zoo
. . . . . . . . to see the wolves – six females
out of New Mexico, who range and run,
. . . . . . . . gray smoke across a brown Ohio hillside,
while people watch them safely from behind
. . . . . . . . a wall-high one-way window.
 
Their window side’s a mirror,
. . . . . . . . and they approach it often, liking
wolves reflected back to them,
. . . . . . . . especially the Omega wolf,
bottom of the order, needing maybe
. . . . . . . . a touch more reassurance.
 
Though they can’t see us, says
. . . . . . . . the curator of wolves, they hear us
and they smell us too,
so that they see
. . . . . . . . themselves and also sense
a something else, perhaps an enemy,
. . . . . . . . possibly even prey.
 
You walk back through the cold,
. . . . . . . . thoughtful and happy.
Home once again, you glance
. . . . . . . . into your mirror, then approach it.
What is that sound, so faint?
. . . . . . . . And what’s that complex odor?

. . . . . . . . . . . . .Red Wheelbarrow, vol. 12: 2011

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Poem from October, 2012

The Language Question

I set my hope to float
in a little boat of words
the way you'd maybe put
a baby in a basket
woven out of crisscrossed
leaves of wild flag
and caulked along the bottom
with pitch and bitumen

and put it in the water
among the reeds and sedges
here at the river's edge
thinking, you never know
where the current takes it
hoping it might end up
the same way Moses did --
saved by Pharaoh's daughter.


NUALA NI DHOMHNAILL
Translated from the Irish by David Young

. . . . . . . . . . . . .(FIELD 44, Spring 1991, p. 56)

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Poem from September, 2012

Occasional Sonnets

1. POLITICIANS INTERVENING IN
THE TERRI SCHIAVO CASE

I read that Freud, after his visit here in 1909,
remarked that America was a mistake.
A large and interesting mistake, but a mistake.
Jesus, he’s right, I think, and slap my brow,

ashamed, once more, to be American,
to list our history of bonehead deeds,
our deadly spread across the continent,
our huge addiction for hypocrisies . . .

But then I think, well, what was Germany?
And England? France? Austria and the rest?
At least we tried some new stuff, and

sometimes behaved as if we could be different.
What is a nation? Something fairly lethal.
Put down that flag and take a good long walk.


2. VINIO ROSSI

................d. Aug. 12, 2005

A large spirit, and a grave and funny heart.
And maybe now he can go back to France
and, when he wants to wander, on to Italy,
to sit out by some river, like the Po:

small table, glass of red wine, breathing,
dish of risotto, fragrant with porcini . . .
the day, reflected idly in the river,
takes on a certain majesty, a scope;

clouds build above it, and it’s then you sense
an afterlife may not go on forever;
there is a touch of autumn in the air.

Seasons for the dead as well, then. Day will close
with an elemental sunset, and the night
will step forth in an armature of stars.


3. THE VOID

................Baudelaire, Le Gouffre

Pascal’s great void was always next to him.
But everything’s abyss! Desire, act, and dream,
language itself! My hair will rise and stand,
as I sense fear within the passing wind.

Above, below, all round – depths and vacuity:
silence and space attract me as they terrify…
Deep in my nights God’s clever, moving hand
traces out nightmares I can’t understand.

Sleep is no good, it’s like a drop-off, giant,
peopled with horrors, plunging, bottomless. . .
Infinity peers in my windows, rapt,

and all my vertigo-torn spirit wants
is the idiotic bliss of Nothingness:
but numbers and existence keep me trapped!


4. READING YANNIS RITSOS IN NOVEMBER

A basket of apples, a bunch of carrots,
a poppy recognized as summer’s wristwatch . . .
Sunlight and suffering, the old Greek way --
the new one too – did not desert him;

in prison, out of it, he drew and mused and wrote,
cherished small things that never went away,
and dreamed a revolution too, that never came,
the lit mirage of a just and ordered city.

Here in Ohio snow will be falling,
and I’m back to a night in 1957,
walking out of a dorm in Minnesota

and seeing Northern Lights across the heavens,
banners and shimmering folds of green and rose,
indifferent to our wondering, upturned faces.


5. WALT WHITMAN SMOOTHING THE FOREHEAD
OF GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS

So different these two men, their worlds unsettled,
a civil war, the slums of Liverpool,
one struggling as a priest and one a roustabout
and yet they come together in two passions:

the force of poetry, the way it takes them over,
and loves of their same gender, much denied them.
So I’ve convened them, sitting by a lamp
handing each other poems, scribbled sheets

with crossings-out and underlinings, question marks
coiling in the margins, exclamation points –
they are not thinking, they are making poems,

bold enough, and crazy, stretching language,
a heaving tenderness, to bring their voices
into our ears, we whom they’ve loved too.


6. THE DEAD FROM IRAQ

They come back and stand in our midst,
young men in camouflage, heads shaved,
with undecided smiles, puzzled eyes.
We seldom happen to perceive them –

partly because we never really wish to;
vague sentinels, stiff at attention,
there in the corners of our vision
among the reeds or trees or graves.

This morning, as the season shifts again,
I’m more morose, half-conscious of their presence,
their numbers and their distribution,

real and not real, somber and too silent,
like phantom limbs that, after amputation,
we slowly talk ourselves out of using.


7. STAN SMITH

My cousin Stan is dead at ninety,
who fought on Okinawa -- never said
what that was like, wounded and then shipped home.
Too much discrepancy between those places:

Iowa, where he farmed and auctioned cattle,
and those green jungles and long beaches
where death was everyday and human blood
seemed to be smeared and sprayed on everything . .

Today, in this Ohio, like his Iowa,
the local woods were carpeted with bluebells
and in the meadow they surrounded, bluebirds.

Nature’s own color scheme, I think.
Blues for Stan Smith. Some piercing sorrow, yes,
but who can argue with such destinies?

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Poem from August, 2012

Eugenio Montale

The Lemons

Listen, the poet laureates
move only among those plants
with special names: boxwood, privet, acanthus.
Myself, I like the roads to grassy ditches,
where urchins can reach into drying puddles
and catch a slender eel;
the lanes along the banks
wind down through cane-breaks,
emerging in orchards, among lemon trees.
 
It’s better when the tumult of the birds
fades and is swallowed in the blue:
you can hear, more clearly, the rustle
of friendly branches in still air;
you catch the trace of this earthbound fragrance,
and an uneasy sweetness
rains in your breast.
Here the war of distracting passions
comes to a marvelous truce --
here even we, the poor,
hold our share of the wealth,
the smell of the lemons.
 
In this hush, you see, when things
abandon themselves and seem on the verge
of revealing their ultimate secrets,
sometimes we hope to discover an error in Nature,
the world’s dead spot, the ring that won’t hold,
the thread whose untangling will finally take us
to the center of a truth.
The eye rummages in the landscape, the mind
inquires arranges dismantles
in the perfume that comes flooding
when the day has grown  languid.
These are the hushes in which one sees
in each estranging human shadow
some troubled god.
 
But the illusion fails and time recalls us
to noisy cities where the light appears
only in snatches, beyond the cornices.
Rain falls, wearying the earth,
winter’s tedium thickens upon the houses,
the light grows stingy, the soul goes bitter;
and then one day, through a half-shut gate,
among the trees of the courtyard
the yellow lemons catch our eye;
and the heart’s frost thaws,
while somewhere within us songs
begin to shower
from golden trumpets of sunlight.

........................Translated by David Young

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Poem from July, 2012

At the White Window

Whatever one sees beyond it –
green lawn, gray sky, blue heaving sea –
 
it’s clear that the window’s framing of the view
is half the meaning, maybe more.
 
The room is bare, the floorboards simple,
the sunlight falls in angles on the floor.
 
By being here alone, our sight
entering this picture, thoughtfully,
 
we celebrate both solitude and its mysterious
opposite, the sense of never being quite alone,
 
of having dim companions – from the past,
the future, from unsensed dimensions –
 
as we move slowly to the window,
never to raise the sash, or even touch the pane,
 
but simply to look out, acknowledging
our unabashed humanity, both frame and view.

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Poem from June, 2012

Old

One dance, one dance with glistening eyes,
glowing cheeks, loose hands.
Then going to stand on the side.  Feeling the wan smile
rising like mist on an evening meadow.
Cooling down slowly and noticing that
the mist is becoming snow.
Thinking wise thoughts then, laughing, lying,
profiting from material loss?
Or jumping back into the revels again,
on stiff legs and with cold hands,
dancing and falling, covered in shame?
It doesn’t help. Life is not pose,
nor is remembering, abstaining. Be still
and go away, and walk alone like an old wolf
and lick the last drops from dry puddles.
Taste them thoroughly, it’s your salvation,
and the faces you make are full of the memory
of earlier laughter. There’s one more drop
of leaden existence, called the future:
the last gulp of undiluted, healing grief.

                     M. Vasalis, translated from the Dutch by
                     Fred Lessing and David Young

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Poem from May, 2012

In Exile

A spring day
here at the end of the world

the world's end where once again
the sun is going down

the oriole's cry --
if it had tears

it could water the blossoms
on top of the trees.

                      Li Shang-yin (813?-858), slightly revised,
                      from DY's Five T'ang Poets (OC Press, 1990)

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Poem from April, 2012

Earthrise: from its rubbled moon
I’m watching the sun’s third planet.
 

It’s blue and white, with flecks of brown and green.
Vast weather systems swirl and mottle it.
Moist, breathing through its fantastic
membrane of atmosphere,
it crowds my heart with love.
 
The world’s suspended, Chekhov says,
on the tooth of a dragon. Even that tooth gleams.
 
I’ve come here to figure out how light
streams to the wheeling planet,
a solar blast, photons and protons,
and helps it live. Morowitz
and Lewis Thomas tell us
that energy from the sun
doesn’t just flow to earth
and radiate away: “It is
thermodynamically inevitable
that it must rearrange
matter into symmetry,
away from probability,
against entropy,
lifting it, so to speak,
into a constantly changing
condition of rearrangement
and molecular ornamentation.”
 
Which is how I got here, I suppose,
some rearranged matter
imagining and praising
“a chancy kind of order,”
always about to be chaos again,
“held taut
against probability
by the unremitting
surge of energy”
streaming out of the sun.
 
Behind, above, below me, stars:
countless suns with the same meaning!
 
Before me, leisurely as a peacock,
the turning earth.

                       from Earthshine (1988)

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Poem from March, 2012

Poem for Adlai Stevenson and Yellow Jackets

It's summer, 1956, in Maine, a camp resort
on Belgrade Lakes, and I am cleaning fish,
part of my job, along with luggage, firewood,
Sunday ice cream, waking everyone
by jogging around the island every morning
swinging a rattle I hold in front of me
to break the nightly spider threads.
Adlai Stevenson is being nominated,
but won't, again, beat Eisenhower,
sad fact I'm half aware of, steeped as I am
in Russian novels, bathing in the tea-
brown lake, startling a deer and chasing it by canoe
as it swims from the island to the mainland.
I'm good at cleaning fish: lake trout,
those beautiful deep swimmers, brown trout,
I can fillet them and take them to the cook
and the grateful fisherman may send a piece
back from his table to mine, a salute.
I clean in a swarm of yellow jackets,
sure they won't sting me, so they don't,
though they can't resist the fish, the slime,
the guts that drop into the bucket, they're mad
for meat, fresh death, they swarm around
whenever I work at this outdoor sink
with somebody's loving catch.
Later this summer we'll find their nest
and burn it one night with a blowtorch
applied to the entrance, the paper hotel
glowing with fire and smoke like a lantern,
full of the death-bees, hornets, whatever they are,
that drop like little coals
and an oily smoke that rolls through the trees
into the night of the last American summer
next to this one, 36 years away, to show me
time is a pomegranate, many-chambered,
nothing like what I thought.

........................from At the White Window (2000)

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Poem from February, 2012

The House Was Quiet on a Winter Afternoon

Someone was reading in the back,
two travelers had gone somewhere,
maybe to Chicago,

a boy was out walking, muffled up,
alert on the frozen creek,
a sauce was simmering on the stove.

Birds outside at the feeder
threw themselves softly
from branch to branch.

Suddenly I did not want my life
to be any different.
I was where I needed to be.

The birds swirled in the dusk.
The boy came back from the creek.
The dead were holding us up

the way the ice held him,
helping us breathe the way
air helps snowflakes swirl and fall.

And the sadness felt just right,
like a still and moving wave
on which the sun shone brilliantly.

........................from At the White Window (2000)

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Poem from January, 2012

Rainer Maria Rilke
Piano Practice

The summer hums. The afternoon exhausts;
she breathed her crisp white dress, distractedly,
and in an etched etude expressed the costs
of her impatience for a new reality

that might well come tomorrow, or this evening --,
that may have been there all along, just dark;
then at the window, tall, possessing everything,
she suddenly could feel the pampered park.

That made her stop, gaze out, lock
hands together, wish for a great thick
novel . . . in a burst of anger she pushed back
the scent of jasmine. She found it made her sick.

........................Translated by David Young

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Poem from December, 2011

Six Ghosts

The Suicide

You think I opened this door
on an impulse. I wish that were true.
But the door was there all my life.
Even when I looked away
I could feel its cold outline.
It knew. Knew I would touch the strange handle,
take one last breath, swing it ajar,
enter that room
empty of me.


The Hunter

The deer that had bedded down
in the second growth by the creek
started up and was gone
before my eyes and ears
could take it in.
 
Now, among mind-shaped trees,
I run ahead of the deer when I want to.


The Sailor

If I come back to the moment of my death,
the ship coasting across black water
its sails half-furled, glowing white
and the storm looming beyond –
 
If I come back it is not regret
but because I am part of some huge dance
that takes me there, breathless and laughing.


The Simpleton

Soap and the moon and my crown askew.


The Poet

All of the words cracked open
and I hatched out
to the world I used to watch
from the distance of my head:
thunder-scrubbed rainbows,
ploughed fields like rosy cocoa dust,
and that voice, echoing behind me.


The Reader

Now that my life is a cool book
I have read once, I can come back
to browse. Often I turn
to a chapter where nothing happened.
Even that is unbearably full,
and I stare at a single page for days,
its strange marks, its wild white silence.

........................from the collection Foraging (1986).
........................Posted in memory of Sarah Hammond.

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Poem from November, 2011

Leopardi: L'Infinito

I’ve always loved this solitary hill
and loved this hedge that hides so much
of the vast horizon from my view.
But sitting here and gazing I can picture
all of the endless space that’s out there, silence
deeper than any human silence, a huge peace
that fills my thoughts until my heart
stands on the edge of fear. And as I hear
the wind come rushing through these plants
I match its voice against that giant silence
and I can understand eternity at last,
and the dead seasons, and the present one,
alive and sounding now. And thus
in this immensity my mind is drowned
and it is sweet to shipwreck in this sea.

........................Translated by David Young

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Poem from October, 2011

Four by Bashio


Rainy season face

. . . . . . . .long hair

. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .pallid blue

 

 


. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .
Even badly drawn

. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .a morning glory

. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .will be charming

 

 

Harvest in progress

. . . . . . . .a crane stands

. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .in the rice paddy

 

.


. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .
Sleeping at a temple

. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .watching the moon

. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .my face as a baby


 . . . . . . . .(from a work in progress)

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Poem from September, 2011

My Little 9-11 Poem

(never published)
 

           1.
           In the tall plume that hangs above where stood
           World One and Two,
           column of dust, smoke, ash, and human souls,
           my own mind rides in anguish.
 
 
           2.
           Sweeping the driveway I find
           among the leaves and seeds,
           a dessicated mouse,
           flattened and silky, dead since spring.
 
           Wafer of loss, emblem of our mood,
           there’s room for you in this vast cavern too.
 
                                                      9-12-01

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Poem from August, 2011

Stevens Ghazal

The snow man makes himself into a ball, rolls here, rolls there,
And is gone in the morning sun, a wink & a sigh.
 
And he never comes back but he always comes back,
In the form of a cloud, a puddle, a star-stone,
 
In the face of a baby, the scream of a grackle,
While a river of light pours blue from the clock,
 
He is mad in his lab, he is high with his kite,
He snaps his suspenders & sweats through the circus,
 
And now he is leaving his office at twilight
Remembering how to forget his own book,
 
The book he made great by defacing & losing it,
Leaves in a shower, word-bonfires blazing,
 
Fragrance of autumn, smoke that goes next to the night
Where the snow man stands in the polar & glittering silence.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from The Planeton the Desk (1991)

Poem from July, 2011

Thunder in the Marsh

Next to the sleek, flat lake,
blue and pink as a moonstone,
stands an upright forest of reeds,
each stalk a green spear,
each spear slender and alone,
with a varnish of light, thin.
The shadow and light aren’t moving.

Heavy in the sky hang harsh,
violet-colored clouds.
Nothing betrays the yellow crowds
of birds that populate the marsh.

Then, with a blinding light,
the sky splits open and slams shut
with one great clap . . .
As from a blacksmith’s shop,
out of the reed-forest sprays
a spark-rain of rising birds,
swarm of a thousand fiery wings
beating on up into the somber heavens,
breaking free into a seething song.

My heart was suddenly white-hot
as if I too was forged upon that anvil
and I went through it anxiously
and came out new and strong.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .M. Vasalis, translated from the Dutch
. . . . . . . . . . . . .by Fred Lessing and David Young

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Poem from June, 2011

June 17, 2003

Dante has slipped and Virgil helps him up.
Or is it the other way around?
Exactly forty years today I married Chloe. . .
So many who were there have left this world
and still I wish I could converse with them,
break bread, drink wine, taste cheese and honey,
tell them I miss them, say to them that my world
seems to get bigger as it empties out.
 
A thundershower flails the backyard trees;
a house finch perches, seeking thistle seed.
 
Let’s rewrite Genesis, by God, admit
Eve must have given birth to Adam, then
he didn’t want to be beholden to her,
made up a sky-god who would punish her.
 
We search, in slumber, like a clumsy diver
feeling his way along the ocean bottom,
looking for wreckage, treasure, coral,
looking to surface into sunlight –
that glass of water, sitting on the table,
where once again the panther comes to drink . . .
 
Virgil fell down and Dante helped him up.
Or was that too the other way around?

                       from Black Lab (2006)

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Poem from May, 2011

from Sonnets to Orpheus (II, 25)

Listen. You can hear harrows at work,
the first ones. Again, the human rhythms
in the hanging stillness of the rank
early-spring earth. What's coming seems

untasted, completely new. What
came to you so often seems now to
come the first time. You always expected it,
but you never took it. It took you.

Even leaves that hung on the oaks all winter
seem, in the evening, to be a future brown.
Sometimes the winds pass a signal around.

The thickets are black. But heaps of manure
are an even darker black in the pastures.
Every hour that goes by is younger.

........................Rainer Maria Rilke, tr. David Young
........................from Sonnets to Orpheus (Wesleyan U. Press)

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Poem from April, 2011

More Basho translations. These haiku are from the
latter part of Basho's career, around the time he wrote
The Narrow Road to the Deep North:


Loving this
       snow aroma
              singing wind
 
 
 
                                                          Evening cool
                                                                faint curve of moon
                                                                       Blackfeather Mountain
 
 
 
In the herb garden
        choosing blooms
              for my grass pillow
 
 
 
                                                      A wild ocean
                                                              and stretching over Sado Island
                                                                     the Milky Way
 
 
 
The first melon
        quarter it
               or cut it in slices?
 
 
 
                                                      Sleeping in the same inn
                                                              with some concubines
                                                                      bush clover and moon

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Poem from March, 2011

Mirror Ghazal

Rilke thought them gorgeous & self-contained as angels;
Maybe they feel a mineral pain & crack with a great relief.
 
Everyone I’ve known and lost is in there. That space is jammed
With coffins, banquets, dancing, fucking, tears . . .
 
O mirror/rorrim, cat’s purr, a bounce of light & self-regard;
Tree fidgets next to tree, cloud drifts over & under cloud.
 
Adjust your uniform, smoothe your hair, wink at your twin.
It’s that cool kingdom you can never hope to enter, Alice.
 
The violence inside us, outside us – likewise the nonchalance.
The dead city & the living one. But which is laughing?
 
Bevel & flash, glass oval in the darkening parlor,
The square that never lied to you, pond in your hand –
 
My breath makes a mist-patch on the thunderstruck surface.
Somewhere behind me, sparks toss & float on the wind.

........................from The Planet on the Desk (1991)

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Poem from February, 2011

Pelee Island, Lake Erie

                     for Carol and Dewey Ganzel

It’s a fine line
between what was abandoned
and what was never settled
 
but this island
where the wheat looks out of place
a dying man sells corn
and scarecrows sound like shotguns
 
is the right place to knock
foreheads with nature
and grow accustomed
to the idea of perishing:
 
the lake shifts carefully on its bed
flies herd us toward the water
the fish decay, leaving precious tokens
 
and a light shines behind our skins
making us useful
                            like beacons
and giving us when we stroll
through beach litter and driftwood
a knack for making shadows

........................from Boxcars (1973)

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Poem from January, 2011

Five Winter Haiku by Basho

tr. D.Y.

___forget-me-grass
picked for rice soup
___New Year’s Day

______~

___in the new snowfall
onion sprouts
___mark the path

______~

___we walk on frosty ground
limping like cripples
___as I see him off

______~

___winter weather
so severe
___it could shrivel rocks!

______~

___piles of quilts
snow on the distant mountains
___I watch both

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Poem from December, 2010

In the Afternoon

This time it came in the afternoon
and not, as always before,
at night.
It came again, but even in daylight
I still could find no name for it.
This time it seemed yellow.
I sat in the kitchen
a burnt match
between my fingers.

            Rainer Brambach
            translated from the German by David Young
            (from FIELD #1, Fall, 1969)

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Poem from November, 2010

Fall Day

Lord, it’s time. Summer was very large.
Lay your shadow on the sundials now
and let the winds loose in the meadows.
 
Tell the last  fruits they must be  full;
give them two more perfect southern days,
force them to completion and then chase
their last sweetness into the heavy wine.
 
Who has no house now won’t be building one.
Who is alone will stay that way for long,
will waken, read, write lengthy letters,
and wander, restless, up and down
the avenues when leaves are blowing.

                                    Rainer Maria Rilke
                                    Tr. David Young


                  from The Book of Fresh Beginnings,
                            Oberlin College Press (1994)

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Poem from October, 2010

Kitchen Ruckus

Broth throbs on the stove. I journey into a turnip, but the saffron-threads, forlorn, summon me back. Dicing the cake, icing the carrot, while mites converse in the oatmeal. Singing with Tristan, humming with Brahms, as tomatoes collapse in their sauce. We hold these truths to be significant—that shrimp goes well with garlic, that bread is a Promised Land, that onions hymn in the nose ...

Ghosts gather. Some wear aprons. They want to recall the taste of wine with well-sauced pasta, to savor brown sugar dissolved in espresso, lemon squeezed over smoked salmon. The tongue has a mind of its own. The chilis are biding their time. Wolves would come down from the mountains just for a pear and a nugget of goat cheese. Please saunter up to this counter and sample a ladle of beans, a morsel of duck, a slice of porcini, as the golden drizzle of sunlight dances outside on the grill.

And which is the poem, please? The butter, the knife that slides right through it? Bread rises, lamb braises. Fruit ripens steadfast in a handsome old bowl. I lick my lips. Oh tingling shadows! Such luck, to be alive!

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Poem from September, 2010

Visiting the Fengxian Monastery

I walked around the grounds
in the company of monks
 
and now they’ve put me up
to spend a quiet night
 
the stillness of the valley
is itself a kind of music
 
the moonlight feels more radiant
filtered through the forest
 
the cliffs of Heaven Gap
tower toward the stars
 
I sleep among cold clouds
that chill my dampened clothes
 
the early prayer bell sounds
as I begin to rouse
 
is my soul awake
so it may match my senses? 

                 
                  from Du Fu, A Life in Poetry (2008)

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Poem from August, 2010

David Young Meets the Ghost of
Wallace Stevens on an August Night
in His Back Yard

Hearing my muttering,
the woodchuck raises up to watch me.
 
So many dead
the old earth harbors by now –
war dead, plague dead, infants, mothers,
sprawled, hunched, staring, rigid,
Indians, settlers, branching forebears
twisted up in roots –
the planet’s one vast graveyard.
 
Now the hair
stands up
on the back
of my neck.
 
Spirits are fuming and circling all around me.
Half here, half somewhere else,
lives inside out, they hiss and sigh.
 
This may be Pound I’m fighting off.
Lie quiet, Ezra. And this one
may be Whitman. Of course I love you, Walt.
 
And now it’s over, they’re melting back
into bushes, trees, and grass. Once more,
the night’s my empty mirror.
 
Wait.
One figure’s left,
a big man, treading slowly like a cat
across damp grass.
 
Ghost from Hartford, ghost from Reading,
here for an ordinary evening . . .
 
 
.....................star
 
 
I venture a sort of salute. He shows
his teeth.
 
For something to be nonsense,
you have to know what sense is, right?
All you postmodernists are such pachyderms,
what should I say to you about my poems?
Ideologies, relativities, your trends,
I was there first, chum. I farmed
ripe nonsense and plowed it back in on Sundays.
You know I did. We live in
a chaos of the sun, just as I said.
 
I danced with all the scientists
and hardly anyone knew it. Chaos and nonsense are
the little bit of leaven in the bread,
the little bit of heaven in the head . . .

 
A star streaks north in a long arc.
He shakes his silver head in admiration.
 
Time to be off now, boy, he mutters.
Remember me! The leaves flicker and shiver.
A barred owl hoots. He’s gone.

........................from Night Thoughts (1994)

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Poem from July, 2010

A Painting of a Falcon


Memorable portrait
of a blue falcon
 
the white silk
gives off wind and frost
 
is he watching fiercely
for a rabbit?
 
angry foreigner
he looks at me askance
 
he has a chain and ring
ready to unfasten
 
I could almost
take him off his perch
 
send him out to find
some of those little larks
 
scatter blood and feathers
on the prairie.

........................from Du Fu, A Life in Poetry (Knopf, 2008)

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Poem from June, 2010

Thoughts of Chairman Mao


 1
 
Holding black whips
the rulers rode
in the blue hills.
 
But the peasants were everywhere and nowhere,
a soft avalanche, gathering
courage; in famines
we ate the mules, tasting vinegar,
lived among rocks above the passes,
and gradually became an army
red flags snapping in the wind
and I wrote of “a forest of rifles,”
and of heroes strolling home
against a smoky
sunset.
 
 
2
 
Wars merge like seasons;
sometimes over hot wine
the old campaigners try to remember
who we were fighting that winter
on this plateau, that plain,
and whether we won.
 
It blurs . . .
miles in boxcars
doors wedged open
miles across blue-shadowed snow.
Hungry evening.
 
Artillery at the river
bodies in the rice fields
a black truck on its side
burning . . .
 
At night we could hear the gibbons
calling each other up the valley.
When there was a rest or a vista
someone would write a poem.
It blends and blurs:
conferences melonseeds sabotage
dungfires treaties mosquitoes
my great red army on the march
blinking in the sunshine.
 
 
3
 
Now it is changed.
I am the giant in the pageant,
toothy, androgynous, quilted.
 
To the slow roll of drums
my effigy speaks to the people
of harvests, steelmills, stars.
 
In the puppetshows I battle
enemies of the state
sometimes with blows and curses
sometimes with love and flowers
while Marx pops up to hug me
and Lenin takes my arm.
 
I would have done it
with poems! Instead
I have come to be
a red book, a pumped-up myth,
from Long March to Big Swim
surfacing, always surfacing:
said to have gone
miles through golden water
wrestled the Yangtze and won,
water god, flower king, rice prince;
 
the current takes me on
and it is no small thing
riding these tides, wave upon
wave of love, smiling, unspeaking,
ten thousand miles of mountains and water,
a chanting race, a skin on history,
 
until the people rise and go,
dispersing me.
 
 
4
 
At the end I enter a small room.
 
Stalin is standing there alone
hands behind his back
gazing out the window.
 
We link arms. We merge.
 
And the rulers ride the blue hills
holding their black whips high.

........................from Boxcars (1974)

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Poem from May, 2010

from Henry Vaughan


 1.    Mountain Hare
 
I rise as the moon sets
and dawn beats up confusion.
Out on the mountain, walking,
I round a hedge in changing light
and meet a full-grown hare.
 
For a moment we stand and stare
fixed by the shock of each other.
 
He’s big as a goat. His ears twitch,
dew shines on his coat,
his wild walleye glitters
and then I fall inside it
and wake an hour or a minute later.
 
Poor Doctor Vaughan’s gone off again.
Maybe that’s what they say in the town.
 
 
2.    Glowworms and Strawberries
 
Follows me everywhere, this light,
and speaks to me in tongues.
 
It’s the light that strawberries give off
whether or not you cut them in half.
 
It’s the mute and muted light
earthworms admire in glowworms.
 
It’s a candle inside a bottle
inside another bottle,
 
the thirdhand light of the pond-moon
that dazzles us down to the backbone.
 
Light buds and sprouts like plants.
The body fills and shivers.
 
The spray on the blossoming trees
makes a solid wall of surf
 
across the hillside orchard
as the world spins slowly, wobbling.
 
Honeybees weave and dart
bright on their patterned errands.
 
Light slides through the broad river,
rising like trout in the pools
 
and finds itself in the music
that running water makes all night.
 
No matter how bad we’ve made the world,
killing for Charles or Cromwell,
 
it’s God, it’s made of God,
and will survive.
 
 
3.    Night-piece
 
I have walked past mountain outcrops
as daylight suddenly caught them,
showing the fire-glint inside.
 
Or sidewise, from a blacksmith’s forge,
in a dusk amid horses and men,
comes a shower of sparks that fires my eye.
 
Maybe the night is best.
A deep but dazzling darkness.
 
God coasts like a perfect boat
through coves and shoals of blackshine.
 
If you walk abroad you shiver
at the fat choir of stars,
and stare at the will-o’-the-wisps
dancing on swamps and meadows.
 
Dig your fingers into the turf
and hold for dear life to the planet.
 
I’ve called the night God’s knocking-time.
I’ve heard his still, soft call
as he hunts like a sharp-eyed owl.
 
And I swear I heard him whisper
“One of your poems made me weep,”
but he never said which one.
 
 
4.    Having lived through a war, I can hymn
 
Dumb and warm, the sheep stroll up
to nose me on the hillside
as I lie and stare at stars.
 
Milk runs cold in the sky,
water walks down the valley.
I hear the bark of a fox.
 
Odor of smoke and magnetic sex,
weird conversation of goats.
While the Bible shines, a lamp in a box,
 
the galaxy strokes its beard
and fondles its giant breasts,
pregnant and sure of its death.
 
All Wales is dreaming through me,
all England talks in its sleep.
It is thin silk, this ecstasy,
 
that rips itself into music
and drinks the tears that run
across its own wet face.
 
 
5.    The Weather Cock
 
Now here is a great joke:
 
the idea that the earth is finite
and we are mortal clay.
 
The Royal Society’s saying
this world is merely “matter.”
 
Even the clay knows better than that.
 
This is a world where soul-shine
blows through the clouds and trees,
where spirit bubbles in springs
and beats in lonely wells.
 
God’s bliss sings in the weeds
and shines in the path of slugs,
the tracks that lead nowhere,
straight as the spiral that runs
like a whelk shell or the wind
spinning the weathercock over my house,
light seeding itself each night
to spiral and sprout each day.
 
Come to my grave in Wales.
You’ll see a glistening yew
and, on an old stone wall,
you’ll find a snail with a perfect shell.
 
You may learn that God’s the light,
wind is the Holy Ghost,
and Christ’s the water cycle.
 
Mornings, there’s dew
up there on the weathercock.
 
The tin bird spins
and is lit by the sun..

                       from Night Thoughts and Henry Vaughan (1994)

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Poem from April, 2010

from "The Light Show":

Today the April light is fizzing.
The wind is blowing chunks of it around:
it oils pine needles, runs up tree trunks,
and spreads in clumps across the grass.
The grackles struggle darkly to resist it,
but it glosses their necks with purple and green
and slicks their beaks. I too
feel misery start to slip away – against my grain
I’m hoisted up into this giant light-machine
and swept away. My silver pen
skates on the yellow paper, my fingernails glow,
my eyes glisten with tears and pleasure.
A huge willow has fallen in my yard,
victim of wind. But today the other trees
are holding themselves up like song into a sky
that is blue with a radiance no one could imagine..

                       from Earthshine (1988)

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Poem from March, 2010

Whichever Stone You Pick Up

Whichever stone you pick up
you lay bare
those who need the stones’ protection:
naked,
they renew their intertwining.
 
Whichever tree you cut down
you fashion
the bedstead where souls
pile together once again
as if this eon were not
troubled
too.
 
Whichever word you speak
you thank
corruption.

                      Paul Celan, from From Threshold to Threshold
                      (forthcoming, Marick Press), translated by David Young

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Poem from February, 2010

From 'Water Diary'

for several days the temperature stood so low
that at last we could walk on water    and we did
the creek creaked softly talking to itself
along the banks through harmless fissures
we brushed some snow aside and peered down through
but could see nothing not water not even ourselves
there was a strange sensation of wrinkles and darkness
we knocked on the stuff    for entrance    for luck
and an old man spoke from a book
“why can’t mind and matter
be more like wind and water?”
we looked up    snow was wobbling toward us
through miles and miles and miles of soundless air

                       from Boxcars (1973)

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Poem from January, 2010

January 3, 2003

My father’s breathing chugs and puffs and catches,
a slow train slowing further, rattling in
to its last stop, a locked and shuttered station.
 
Ninety-nine years this pair of lungs, this heart,
have done their work without complaint.
Time now to let them stop and draw their wages.
 
The years slide down a chute and disappear;
as memories dissolve and vaporize,
the body simplifies to mottled matter,
 
and if the myths have got it right for once,
he turns to find a welcome somewhere else,
to touch my mother’s face and make her smile.

                       from Black Lab (2006)

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Poem from December, 2009

Basho

Tonight, on the other side of the lake,
someone is walking with a lantern.
 
The changing light on the water
-- a blossom, a wasp, a blowfish --
calls me back from desolation
and makes me sigh with pleasure.
 
How can I be so foolish?
 
           diamond
It’s true! All night
I listen to the rain
dripping in a basin . . .
in the morning I have a haiku.
So what!
 
All these years
and I think I know
just about nothing:
a close-grained man
standing in haze by the warm lake
hearing the slap of oars
and sobbing.
 
             diamond
For weeks now, month, a year,
I have been living here at Unreal Hut
trying to decide what delight means
and what to do with my loneliness.
 
Wearing a black robe,
weaving around like a bat . . .
 
             diamond
Fallen persimmon, shriveled chestnut,
I see myself too clearly.
 
A poet named for a banana tree!
 
Some lines of my own come back:
Year after year
on the monkey’s face –
a monkey mask.

 
I suppose I know what I want:
the calm of a wooden Buddha,
the state of mind of that monk
who forgot about the snow
even as he was sweeping it!
 
But I can’t run away from the world.
I sit and stare for hours at
a broken pot or a bruised peach.
An owl’s call makes me dance.
 
I remember a renga we wrote
that had some lines by Boncho:
somebody dusts the ashes
from a grilled sardine . . .

And that’s the poem! That sardine!
And when it is, I feel
it is the whole world too.
 
But what does it mean
and how can it save you?
When my hut burned down
I stood there thinking,
“Homeless, we’re all of us homeless . . .”
 
Or all my travels, just so much
slogging around in the mire,
and all those haiku,
squiggles of light in the water . . .
 
             diamond
Poems change nothing, save nothing.
 
Should the pupil love
the blows of the teacher?
 
A storm is passing over.
Lightning, reflected in the lake,
scares me and leaves me speechless.
 
I can’t turn away from the world
but I can go lightly . . .
 
Along the way small things
may still distract me:
a crescent moon, a farmer
digging for wild potatoes,
red pepper pods, a snapped chrysanthemum . . .
 
Love the teacher, hate the blows.
 
Standing in mist by the shore,
nothing much on my mind . . .
 
             diamond
Wearing a black robe,
weaving around like a bat –
 
or crossing a wide field
wearing a cypress hat!

                       from Foraging (1986)

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Poem from November, 2009

Oh Salmon-Colored Edsel, Run Us Down

1
Always in autumn you cannot say what you mean.
Your eyes grow heavy, your head rolls.
You make a sound like an airplane
too high to see.
 
 2
An insurance man is falling asleep at the wheel.
Death is all he wants:
shot down by drunken hunters,
stuffed and set up, a pumpkin man,
in some Slav’s yard.
 
And the housewife, in her sad scarf:
she wants to lie in the leaves
among blackening apples and walnuts,
she wants the leaves heaped up, frost-glazed,
she wants to be forgotten.
 
We are all heavy with this dark tug;
the fireman dreams himself in flames,
the teacher is dismembered by his class,
the farmer is crucified on his windmill.
 
We are sick of vicarious death; we want the real thing.
Our eyelids are carved of oak and our hands
shake when we try to use them.
 
3
Sunday morning at the Discount Center,
entrance to the kingdom of the dead.
 
They have a new machine here.
Put a quarter in this large white horse
and he’ll paw you to death.
 
 4
Sometime in November it starts to snow,
softly, from gunblue clouds.
 
We light lamps early and build fires.
Blood rises in us again,
a naked dancer, slowly plunging
forward, head down,
shaking and singing.

                       from Sweating Out The Winter (1969)

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Poem from October, 2009

Hearing You Read

                        for Stuart Friebert

that’s a persuasive voice that makes
bread rise, slices it up and serves it
walks through each room of the embarrassed house
undaunted by domestic jumps, slaps, tears,
stiff sleepers, old windows, eggs, mirrors,
stands on a hill and interrupts the wind
using strings that snarl and entangle
to engineer reunions of the dead, the dying
the loved who were always hated, lesbian cooks
who made you notice sidewalks, Czech refugees
who lied, pilots chewing their neckties, gloomy
fishermen, hunters sniffing their armpits, listen,
it’s a rich soup where even the stones float up
while someone who came of age the hard way, descended
from sects who capered naked in the snow says gently
eat these they’re good for you they’re dumplings
swallow darling and close your eyes the walls
are buckling slowly from time’s terrific
soft tornado and you’re the type who’d drop
two tranquilizers and then count the bricks
Stuart, the town is yours as well as this spilled
bucket of tennis balls don’t stay up late
calm down rise up from the floor read on!

........................from Boxcars (1974)


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Poem from September, 2009

A Country Postcard

September here, a haze on things,
diamond mornings, dying corn.
We have green fields here, white-flecked,
we have blue fields here, chicory,
yellow fields, four kinds of goldenrod,
and a man in a white shirt
and a red face
a man made out of words
stands by the B & O tracks
listening for the express
that disappeared west
before the tracks
began to rust.

There’s a stillness
this morning, that the man
made out of words must walk through
listening
as he wades
in chicory, alfalfa,
wild carrot, goldenrod,
the nodding, growing
dew-decked, soon-to-die
words.

September here, a haze on things,
diamond mornings, dying corn.
We have green fields here, white-flecked,
we have blue fields here, chicory,
yellow fields, four kinds of goldenrod,
and a man in a white shirt
and a red face
a man made out of words
stands by the B & O tracks
listening for the express
that disappeared west
before the tracks
began to rust.

There’s a stillness
this morning, that the man
made out of words must walk through
listening
as he wades
in chicory, alfalfa,
wild carrot, goldenrod,
the nodding, growing
dew-decked, soon-to-die
words.

                       from Boxcars (1973)

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Poem from August, 2009

Mother

There was nothing, I thought, still think,
you couldn’t do. Make pretty packages
that rustled with brown paper –
open the stuck jam jar, bandage wounds,
wire money, write condolence letters,
read out loud, speak five languages,
pull half-drowned dogs from the water,
and listen closely to long-winded stories.
But when the song began to end, you said:
I just can’t do this, sweetheart, I can’t do it.
And you meant dying. Struggling for hours
through the loose sand, searching for a handhold.
But you could do it after all, at last,
my dear one. And later, at the beach, I’ll find you.
Please, let me find you. You can do that, yes?

                       Translated from the Dutch of M. Vasalis,
                       by Fred Lessing and David Young

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Poem from July, 2009

The Day Nabokov Died

    1   
I looked up from my weeding
and saw a butterfly, coal-black,
floating across Plum Creek. Which facts
are laced with lies: it was another day,
it was a monarch – if it was black
it must have been incinerator fluff.
 
A black hinge, opening and shutting.
 
 
     2
Elsewhere the sunset lights
bonfires in hotel windows, gilds the lake,
picks out false embers where it can:
watch crystal, drinking glass, earring.
“Nabokov,” someone calls, “is dead . . .”
What would you give to be in, say, Fialta,
hearing the rhythms of a torpid coast?
Or on the porch at the Enchanted Hunters,
conversing in the shadows with Sirin?
Sneezes, lachrymose sighs. Chuckles and coughs.
When at a loss for words, try waving
one helpless hand before your face.
 
Walking the dog I saw a hawkmoth too,
big as two hands, opening and shutting.
 
 
      3
In the skyscraper across the lane
an aproned man sets up his easel
at the window opposite, and cocks his head.
What does he see? A dwarf
mixing a violet powder, a fat
landlady playing Patience, a little girl
brushing a velvet coat, in tears,
three people having sex. In short,
the world. Ourselves. Aren’t all of us
some form of Maxwell’s Demon,
particle sorters, systems
so self-enclosed they work too well to work?
Grandmaster, slip into your fiction like
Houdini diving through a pocket mirror.
Here’s wonder, but no grief. And even so,
you’d not have liked this poem. Wan child
in a sailor suit, man running by
waving a gauzy net, tall fencer, pedant,
hotelmensch, empty suit of clothes . . .
 
One exile more. One language still to learn.

                       from The Names Of A Hare In English (1979)

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Poem from June, 2009

June 17, 2003

Dante has slipped and Virgil helps him up.
Or is it the other way around?
Exactly forty years today I married Chloe. . .
So many who were there have left this world
and still I wish I could converse with them,
break bread, drink wine, taste cheese and honey,
tell them I miss them, say to them that my world
seems to get bigger as it empties out.

A thundershower flails the backyard trees;
a house finch perches, seeking thistle seed.

Let’s rewrite Genesis, by God, admit
Eve must have given birth to Adam, then
he didn’t want to be beholden to her,
made up a sky-god who would punish her.

We search, in slumber, like a clumsy diver
feeling his way along the ocean bottom,
looking for wreckage, treasure, coral,
looking to surface into sunlight –
that glass of water, sitting on the table,
where once again the panther comes to drink . . .

Virgil fell down and Dante helped him up.
Or was that too the other way around?

                       from Black Lab (2006)

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Poem from May, 2009

Kohoutek

In a broad field on a clear night you might stare at the sky quite uselessly, and with expanding dismay. I had the luck to encounter the comet on a gray morning when I was doing next to nothing in an upstairs room. I may have been restless and shaky, but my attention was steady as a trout. Outside, the plane trees began to stir. Then the mirror gave a small tremor. The comet was in the closet! Shaggy and silent. I glanced outside. The same pigeons were walking on the brown corrugated roof next to a skylight. But for a few moments, all the terrifying diffuseness – of matter, of winter light, of interest and love, of the Great Plains and the galaxies themselves – was just exactly bearable!

rule

Poem from April, 2009

Root Vegetable Ghazal

The moon swings off in a bag like a market lettuce
And everyone gropes home by ant glint & beetle shine.

In the Hotel Potato, in waxy marble ballrooms,
The waltzers rustle to the croon of enzymes.

In the curved corridors of the onion palace,
The smell of mushrooms seeps from unlit closets.

Our city is littered with wormseed & forcemeat;
Mummies are hymning in our turnip-purple church.

Radishes cruise through the revenant storage warehouse.
The bones of a goose mark the way to an amphitheater.

Now we can scale the carrot, our tapering campanile,
To watch the platoons of gravel, the water-bead parade.

We with our thorn-wrapped hearts & ivory foreheads!
We with our mineral tunnels awash in mole-glow!

                       from The Planet on the Desk. (1991)

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Poem from March, 2009

Poem for Wrists

Wrists! I want to
write you a poem you
whom nurses finger watches
circle razors open
handcuffs chill – you are
taken for granted wrists!
therefore assert yourselves
take charge of your
unruly friends the hands
keep them from triggers, off
necks give them a light
touch have them wave bye-bye
teach them to let
go at the right moment oh
wrists shy ankles of the arm
on whom farms flyrods
shovels whips and poems
so naturally depend.
 
                       from Boxcars (1973)

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Poem from February, 2009

Blake's 'Dante and Virgil Penetrating the Forest' (1824)

The trees are full of life, streamlined and shapely;
their leaves are blobs and networks, rising water,
and everything is bluish-green, as if
this whole scene were submerged.
 
The two men, shapely too, have one strong contrast:
the younger poet's arms are at his sides,
palms out, a gesture of rejection.
 
Virgil, however, holds both arms aloft,
not just referring to the forest but
by being treelike, even more than Dante,
he's saying, Blake insists,
We are the forest!
 
It is not other, it is what we are!

The trees lean in to listen and agree.
 
                       from Black Lab (2006)

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Poem from January, 2009

Skeleton

Death is so often portrayed
as a skeleton, with outsized hands
and a grin through iron teeth
as if a rake had smiled.
I had to grow this old, this wounded,
to understand that that is just more life,
stripped of all its temptations
when one has gone long enough and far enough,
deeper with every step
into the quicksand of existence:
it's life that dares to stand this way before me.
-- I laugh in response, he looks like a woman
who knows herself so married to her man
she no longer puts on her clothes for him
trusting triumphantly
that he does love her. -

Now I know too, why I always found something jolly
in that figure, that bare and shameless mouth,
the fragile cage of ribs, there where the heart
once hung and sang, a bird of light
caught in the tropics.
From all that was enticing about life
nothing's been saved but this transparency:
no song, no care, no love, no fire, no light.
Just this anonymous, iron, laughing face
and this cage, and these outsized hands.

...................Maria Vasalis, translated from the Dutch by
.............................................Alfred Lessing and David Young

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Poem from December, 2008

December Fouth, 1974

Rainer Maria Rilke,
on this your ninety-ninth birthday
I make you the following presents:

a woodpecker's egg
roasted
in the flame of a small candle

an art nouveau jug
half full
from the wounds of your pretty
saints

the finger of a mummy
that will always point the way

a cloud of organ
sound a cloud
of orange and gold
butterflies
circling a pillar of salt

the nose of a pony that's
a trumpet a muscle a loaf

a poem by Tu Fu
that goes off like an old musket

the stunned
chain pickerel
I caught in a net this fall

oh the great big poppy of metaphor

the past and future for which you exchanged
my present your
present

I give it back, your present
that I keep finding and losing
red thread
angel's knuckle
smoke in the rafters           crows


....................from The Names of a Hare in English (1979)

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Poem from November, 2008

A Ghost, to One Alive

There you sit, in the midst of your heart’s rich tick,
your breath coming and going,
a lax and happy piston;

your eyes blink, your tongue slicks your lips,
your brain hums, gobbling oxygen.
Oh hot, unconscious life . . .

I know I am hard to imagine –
a smoke bag, a spindle of mist, fume of an old fear-pot –
but you are just the opposite:

you ruin this sweet hush, two times too real,
and I find I have to drift back
from your clicks, wheezes and smells,

your mask of hope over a hopeless gape,
one eye on the wagging clock, muffled
amazement, bundle of hungers, oven stuffed with yourself!

If you knew a bit more you might envy me,
moon-scalded as I am,
voodoo-hooded and vague as cheesecloth,

a simulacrum of solid old you,
the last billow from a cold, closed furnace,
a dimple, at best, in existence,

the bird call without the bird.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Foraging (1986)

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Poem from October, 2008

Autumn Ghazal

Dressed all in cornshucks, I thread the marsh & meadow.
The rain comes widdershins. The brain's a sopping pumpkin.

Now meet Jack Bones, the tramp, & Hazel, the dusty witch;
His vinegar sizzle, her dripping crock of honey.

There's counterstress for walnut-crack. Light like a knife
Stuck in an apple. There's banging of cutlery and plates.

Blueface stares at Bloodyface. Oily hands tear bread.
Miles of high-tension wires. Smoke haze, asphalt scuffle.

What are those frosty weeds? What's this smashed cottage?
Who dumped the soup of life? Who cracked this cheval glass?

Coming up from the lead-mine, seeing the bean-curd clouds,
Hearing the bruise-owl call, shopping for winter candles . . .

Sleep condescends. Light rills across wet spiderwebs.
It takes eight days to wheel this bulkhead into place.


. . . . . . . . . . . . .from The Planet on the Desk (1991)

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Poem from September, 2008

The Portable Earth-Lamp

The planet on the desk, illuminated globe
we ordered for Bo’s birthday,
sits in its Lucite crescent, a medicine ball
of Rand McNally plastic. A brown cord
runs from the South Pole toward a socket.

It’s mostly a night-light for the boys,
and it blanches their dreaming faces,
a blue sphere patched with continents,
mottled by deeps and patterned currents,
its capital cities bright white dots.

Our models: they’re touching and absurd,
magical both for their truth and falsehood.

I like its shine at night. Moth-light.
I sleepwalk toward it, musing.
This globe’s a bible, a bubble of myth-
light, a blue eye, a double
bowl: empty of all but its bulb and clever skin,
full of whatever we choose to lodge there.

I haven’t been able to shake off all my grief,
my globe’s cold poles and arid wastes,
the weight of death, disease and history.
But see how the oceans heave and shine,
see how the clouds and mountains glisten!

We float through space. Days pass.
Sometimes we know we are part of a crystal
where light is sorted and stored,
sharing an iridescence
cobbled and million-featured.

Oh tiny beacon in the hurting dark.
Oh soft blue glow.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Earthshine

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Poem from August, 2008

The Picture Says

   1

That we all die, sometimes
when we are children.

That it would look like sleep
if flesh did not decay.

That we are marble, mottled,
that we are piebald clouds.

That we lie in the long grass,
peaceful, hair a little tangled,

grass like wires, spindles, rims,
grass like crisscross lifelines,

paths of the shooting stars,
arcs on the flecked night sky.


   2

Sound of a backhoe, tractor-chug:
this old man is the pond-digger –

he stands by the water's edge
on his open palm a pond-snail . . .

he is humming, a kind of bee-speech,
while the child sleeps in the grass

the water a grainy mirror,
the light, the smoky lilies,

and the sky, filling slowly
with bruise-blue rainclouds.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from The Names of a Hare in English (1979)


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Poem from July, 2008

July Morning Vision

Did nobody else at the funeral see
The great whips cracking in the air
The sweat flying off in droplets
The droplets shining like dew?

My birds, I want to speak to you today
About your other lives as galley slaves.
Your singing, in case you didn’t know it,
Comes from the chants you made, working together.

When a galley slave dies and becomes a bird,
The whips trill, the long boats roll and wallow,
We ship our oars and listen, listen, listen.
On the horizon, lightning lashes the sea.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from At The White Window (2000)

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Poem from June, 2008

Four About Death

Naturally, no one has been more misrepresented. The large dark eyes, for instance, with their penetrating glance. In fact, they are blind. But if you put your own up close to them, you begin to glimpse the many things within: the lovers in their squirrel cage, the panel discussion, the feast of the green-gowned goats, the bull’s-eye lanterns strung through coastal villages. “So that is the sort of thing,” you muse, “that lies beyond.” The answer to that: not necessarily.

square

Rented the house next to mine. Aloof at first, seen occasionally clipping the hedge or putting out rabbit poison. Friendly waves as our carts passed in the grocery. Now and then limousines in the driveway, late nights, soft bell music. Thick red hair, golden beard, long fingers. When I realized he was spying on me, he confessed immediately, face ablaze. We discussed his loneliness and reached an understanding: weekly visit for tea and backgammon. We also exchange books, amidst disconcerting hints of greater intimacy to come. Something in that firm handshake makes me think I was wrong to take pity on him.

square

Peyote, no hot water, a relaxed attitude about magic – the Native Americans got to know her quite well. An Indian child could go sit with Death and chat. Such conversations tended to be dominated by her opinions. She considered the Cheyennes “autograph-seekers.” She called the Aztecs a name that translates roughly as “The Heavies.” About the Pawnees: “It’s ridiculous, all those stories about Beaver Woman this and Buzzard Man that.” As for the Navajos, she resented their interest in her relation to darkness, mosquitoes, intoxication, and travel. Her comments suggest a gruff affection. Which was reciprocated. Often. And with considerable taste.

square

I get your instructions in a letter. A small plane drops me at an airfield in the Andes. I stand by a rusting hangar, watching it climb out of sight. No one’s around. Farther up the mountain animals I have never seen are grazing. Higher still, a few clouds, resting against rocks. You do not arrive when I do. I must live in a hut for an undetermined space of time. Now and then I walk down to the village, carrying a basket for food and a jug for wine, but such things interest me less and less. Night storms light the mountains with blue flashes and send gusts of wind and rain that flatten the meadows. The morning of your arrival, I see a hare raised up, watching me. I do not know if you will come down the mountain or, more slowly, from below. All I know is that I will go out to meet you. My soul will be in my mouth.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Work Lights (1977)

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Poem from May, 2008

Bonuses

The wasp’s
zigzag journey
up the pane
while I read
down one
page

.star

Mushrooms as ghosts:
did you think rot
could fruit this way?
Or taste like this?
Or give you visions?

.star

The grackle walks
like a drum major
then leaps straight up
and opens into
a lady’s black silk fan.

.star

Mushroom architecture:
Art Deco airport towers,
Destroying Angels pure as mosques,
geodesic puffballs, shagged pagodas,
morels by Gaudi . . .

.star

Because of the way
the windows join
their images I see
two robins now –
one solid on the lawn,
the other, next to him,
a see-through ghost.

The solitary double, fierce for worms,
struts unaware of what’s not there.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Foraging (1986)

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Poem from April, 2008

The Self: A Sonnet Sequence

1
If we are what we see, hear, handle,
then I am London now: rainlight and chimneypots,
shuddering buses, streaky bacon flatblocks,
rooks in a queue. Reading your novel, I was a girl

who took up living in a barn, Sense-pestered,
trailing itself around the world,
the self is now and then complete as it looks in
to mingle with an afternoon, a page, a person . . .

In the Siberian frozen tombs they found
wool socks, expressive faces, rugs, fresh leather,
a chieftain’s arm still glowing with tattoos:

what the self freezes, what the self digs up –
what do you want to call it, kid?
Weather. A city on a page. A mirror.

 

2
Self as imperialist, pushing out his borders?
Oh, the ego rides in armor, bellows threats,
but his helmet’s a pocked kettle, he’ll turn tail
as soon as he sees the torches of the future,

he’s far less real than, say, his horse’s shoulder.
The anarchists he hired are dismantling
what’s left of his soft palace, heaving chunks
into the soft and unbecoming river.

A candle: what it means to do is vanish,
Brightly. The self: what it means to do
is make a candle. Something of that kind,

and the object – horseshoe, cabbage, poem –
is what the self just hoped to run together to
and fill: a cup of anonymity.

 

3
Well, no, not run together. Scatter: smoke
in its eloquent hoods and cowls. Clouds,
their race and rain. We’re swarms of funny matter
(ice, rust, grasses, moonsparks, puff-paste)

longing and fearing to disperse. “Can’t get away
from you-know-who” (scratched on a mirror), but the eye
sees way beyond the eye, and the mooncalf mind
sits on its shelf and flies great kites.

“After the dancers have left
and the grand ballroom is empty,
the old beekeeper brings

a rustling and humming box;
and the band begins to play again,
but you’ve never heard the music.”

 

4
My young self comes to see me, fresh and friendly.
He is from 1957, and anxious to get back.
I think he is just polite about my acting
as though we had lots in common. Stands in the doorway,

charming but rushed. I’m amazed
that I like him so much, like him at all,
he has such an air of self-discovery,
as if one day to the next he knows himself

(first love, acting, superficial poems),
a life he thinks I’m merely interrupting.
I live inside his dream, he inside mine,

and we back away from each other, smiling,
a couple of meadows, a couple of knives,
affection brimming between us as we go.

 

5
Is a pebble. Is a bubble. Drags its little sled
through empty salt flats under a cobalt sky
of nailed-up stars. Is a lamb with real sharp teeth,
a tongue waltzing in a moonlit clearing. Is

a donkey, leaning against a mulberry tree
in which the silkworms spin their mysteries;
hugs itself, hugs itself and cries,
a horn full of sparks, a shadow at a keyhole.

The critic wanted to enter the very brush stroke,
then find the brush, then climb the painter’s arm,
muscle and vein and nerve to mind and heart:

instead he stumbled and then he was falling forever
through meaningless words that were falling too
in exactly the opposite direction.

 

6
Has its parents strapped on like backpacks,
grandparents in a suitcase; its orders are
to move the grand piano over a mountain
without upsetting the buckets of milk for its children.

The house is sheared open by the wrecking ball
and there is the bathroom, flashing its mirror,
the wallpaper, losing track of its pattern,
the chest of drawers where father kept his condoms.

Tear rolling down the hill of the corpse’s
Cheek. Big tear that rolls off the stiff blue chin.
Things left behind, trashbin and junkyard.

Rain won’t be different from skin.
Eye won’t be different from view.
Smoke will take root and every flower float.

 

7
Hyde, this is Jekyll: no more rages,
no more rapes and stranglings. I leave this flat
only for necessary shopping.
On the horizon, the orphanage burns.

Evelyn Waugh, timid of ridicule,
built up a carapace so thick
he could hardly move inside it – except to write
painful, hilarious novels, ridiculing the world.

The daylight brightens, dims and brightens.
Late March. Atoms of nostalgia,
flakes of essential self. Crusoe on his beach

pondering a footprint. Still March. Outside
the blown rain writes nonsense on the windows,
the pear tree strains against its ivory buds.

 

8
One of those houses where the eyes of portraits move
and suits of armor mutter by the stairs.
But this was worse. The chairs had body-heat
and every sink was specked with blood.

I swept from room to room, my cape
billowing out behind. Sat by the fire
poking the panting coals. Hid beneath a bed
and listened to them screwing in the attic.

Think of a liquid. Dog slobber. Cattle drool.
Dipped up in a leaf-cup from a spring. It’s true,
anything other than human could comfort me now

like that French poet who could put his face
against a hanging side of beef
and still his fear.

 

9
Goodbye to the night sky, the Milky Way
a bone-seam on a cranium, vein in a cave.
Now dawn is a rooster, noon a pheasant
crossing the road. I drive. Land’s End, Tintagel,

the landscape fills me slowly, like a sail.
A daylight display, a wind off the Atlantic,
ego shadows sailing across pieced fields,
a herd of clouds without a shepherd.

Sometimes the world will fit you like a sweater
and you think ingenuity and fortitude
can see you through, your recipe and axis.

I have to say this clumsily; at best,
the image trembles in its instant, star
in a pail of water carried through a glade.

 

10
In Voronezh did Mandelstam
sing of his death the winter I was born
in Davenport, in Iowa, all mother’s milk and love
against his sour tea and fear. The contrast

makes me wince. I want . . . to be a goldfinch too?
No, and I’m not the point. Nor Mandelstam. We’re both
exhibits of the self, the flesh made word,
singing its own confusion and delight:

all this takes place despite the big world’s Stalins.
I write this in The Royal Mail, in Islington.
“Hullo, Stanley,” says the barmaid. Pool balls click,

the jukebox throbs. We bob on currents,
taking the world as best we can, each planet
cruising its dawns and dusks around the sun.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .England. (January-May, 1979)

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Poem from March, 2008

A Lowercase Alphabet

a. . . . . . . . . .snail going up the wall

b. . . . . . . . . .hang up the little dipper

c. . . . . . . . . .mouth, moon, riverbed

d. . . . . . . . . the dipper in the mirror

e. . . . . . . . . .tiny eye of the whale

f. . . . . . . . . .oil well, skate, old pistol

g. . . . . . . . . what did you do to your glasses?

h. . . . . . . . . a chimney for every hut

i. . . . . . . . . .the levitation of the spot

j. . . . . . . . . .landscape with fishhook and planet

k. . . . . . . . . where three roads almost meet

l. . . . . . . . . .romance of the periscope

m. . . . . . . . .comb from the iron age

n. . . . . . . . . the hut that lost its chimney

o. . . . . . . . . .simplification of the blood

p. . . . . . . . . .the dipper dead and buried

q. . . . . . . . . .its mirror buried with it

r. . . . . . . . . .geyser that goes off crooked

s. . . . . . . . . .little black love seat

t. . . . . . . . . .the portable cross

u. . . . . . . . . cross section of a trough

v. . . . . . . . . .the hawk above the valley

w. . . . . . . . . a graph for winter, pigsfoot

x. . . . . . . . . .dancer, hourglass, black suspenders

y. . . . . . . . . .the root begins to sprout

z. . . . . . . . . .path of the rabbit


. . . . . . . . . . . . .from The Names Of A Hare In English (1979)

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Poem from February, 2008

Chopping Garlic

The bulb, an oriental palace
shrouded in gray and lavender paper,
splits open into a heap
of wedge-shaped packets housing
horns, fangs, monster toenails
all of a pungent ivory -- I
could string them into a necklace
but I smash them flat instead,
loving the crunch, brushing away
all the confetti – clouds
of odor bloom around me now
as I chop, this way and that,
with my half-moon blade
in the scooped wood
that will never completely lose
the fragrance that oils it, smears
my fingers, wants to be in
the pores of my skin forever . . .
trumpets and cymbals blare
as I dump the grainy mess
into the pan, oh, holy to the nose
are the incense and sizzle that summon
folks from all parts of the house
to ask about dinner, sniffing,
while up in one end of the sky
a crescent moon hangs crazily
a glowing clove,
a dangerous fragrance
filling the very corners
of some god's smiling mouth.


. . . . . . . . . . . . .from At The White Window (2000)

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Poem from January, 2008

A Calendar: The Beautiful Names of the Months

........ ..January
On this yearly journey two
faces are better – a weary
woman, a wary man.


........ ..February
Where the earth goes
to run a fever. The care’s good.
Herbs brew. The rooms are airy.


........ ..March
Bridge curving over a swamp.
A bruise that smarts, the long
patience of an army.


........ ..April
Neither grape nor apple.
Any monkey, a pearly sprig,
a prism. Flute notes.


........ ...May
The arch opens. Crowds.
Goats, babies, vowels and
the wind, permitting anything.


........ ..June
A jury rises.
The moons of Jupiter
set. Bugs, berries, prairie grass.


........ ..July
Jewelers snooze on the grass,
one eye open for the tall
constellation-poppies.


........ ..
August
Clearing your throat of dust.
Wading in lagoons . . . algae,
hot bursts of wind.


........ ..September
Lives away from his brothers,
gentle-tempered, a little solemn.
Bears pests, eats peas and beets.


........ ..October
Cold roots and a fresh-caught owl
rocked on a cot.
An orange boot.


........ ..November
Toothache and memory.
Nine women. Overdressed beavers.
No new members.


........ ..December
Something decent, easy.
Frozen meekness. Wax. A good
end, an ember, then ten of them.


. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Box Cars (1974)

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Poem from December, 2007

The Poem of the Cold

Admit you tried to make it pretty. Start again. Talk about the huge
nails going in, the serene blows of the hammer. Flocks migrate at
great cost, animals crawl painfully into burrows. A starving man
chews on a bird’snest, cursing. It may be true that wonderful things
go on – a polished haw swinging on a tree in the oxlike wind, an old
woman splitting wood next to a sand-colored barn – but you must
avoid these. For you are the cold’sthin voice, that thickens everything
else As you sing, warm things ball up, shrivel, stiffen. Hands become
mittens, heads become hoods. Shadows lose their outlines, gates lock,
waterfalls hang silent as their own bad portraits. And gradually, as you
shiver and wince, your poem will grind to its own slow close, like the
works of a twenty-five pound clock, freezing beside the overturned
dog sled, the scattered supplies, the man whose face froze around his
tears and beard, the five dead huskies.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Work Lights (1974)

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Poem from November, 2007

At the Back of the Year in a High Wind

winter

the sun crawls through a sewer pipe

the moon that silver truck
drives off through shaking trees

little shrubs that edge potato fields
are wringing their hands saying We
were not meant to be adventurous

and here comes a prairie chicken
tumbling over and over
_________________she has come
a long way
________from the west

and is going a long way

to the conventions of the clouds
the master classes of the snow

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Boxcar (1973)

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Poem from October, 2007 and October, 2014

October’s Stem and Head-Piece

I’ve carved this pumpkin with a moonslice grin
and star-shaped eyeholes. I want him to go rolling
among the reaches of the universe, hung glitter,

and let the spirits spinning on themselves
among the ice, the burning dust, the gulfs,
the inky gasses, streaky bursts of starlight,

know how this blue sky and this honey locust
are just what the great gods would have booked
if they could order up a world of form and color.

I want him hinting of the wells of being here
quenching the greatest thirsts, those wells we taint
when we forget we need to sing the death-chant

that wraps me now, as I flush seeds and pulp and strings
into the rippling creek, then hurl the cerebellum
into the brush where nobody will find it.

All night the sallow face smiles at clouds,
licking the cream, winking at the wolves,
as pinprick after pinprick fills the sky.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from At the White Window (2000)

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Poem from September, 2007

Poem About Hopping

Rabbits in Alabama hop
into clumps of Syrian grass
to nibble the stalks, thinking of
sorghum, hardly noticing autumn.

Along the Great Divide the bighorn
sheep hop casually from rock to
rock in the wind and glare, seriously
considering leaping silver rivers, as

salmon in crazy waters jump
upstream for love – oh it’s
a nervous country. When you
walk through stubble, the hub

of a wheel with grasshopper
spokes, or sit over bowls of excited
cereal, what can you say to your heart
but, Down sir, down sir, down?

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Sweating Out the Winter (1969)

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Poem from August, 2007

Putting My Father's Ashes in the Cemetery
at Springville Iowa

August 7, 2003

My brother and my sister shade their eyes
against the noonday glare. My cousins stroll
among the graves. These Grant Wood hills
rich now with corn and soybeans,
seem to be just the place to set
this marble shoebox
deep in the earth, next to my mother’s,
this earth that’s full of relatives:
grandparents, uncles, aunts, the infants too,
some that lived long enough for names, some not,
each generation giving ground to others,
hidden and peaceful, like the family farms
down at the end of narrow shaded lanes
where tractors doze and trees stand tall and green
dreaming the summer into autumn.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Black Lab (2006)

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Poem from July, 2007

Vermont Summer: Three Snapshots, One Letter

Imaginary Polaroid

In this picture I am standing in a meadow,
holding a list of fifty-one wildflowers.
It is Vermont, midsummer, clear morning
all the way to the Adirondacks.
I am, as usual, lost. But happy,
shaggy with dew. Waving my list.
The wind that blows the clouds across these mountains
has blown my ghosts away, and the sun
has flooded my world to the blinding-point.
There’s nothing to do till galaxy-rise
but name and gather the wildflowers.
This is called “pearly everlasting.”
And this one is arrow-leaved tear-thumb!
Hawkweed, stitchwort, dogbane, meadow-rue . . .
The dark comes on, the fireflies weave around me,
pearl and phosphor in the windy dark,
and still I am clutching my list,
saying “hop clover, fireweed, cinquefoil,”
as the Milky Way spreads like an anchor overhead.


Robert Frost’s Cabin

He perched up here at the lip of the woods
summer after summer. Grafted his apple trees
into a state of confusion. Came down
two or three times a season to be lionized.
Mesmerized visitors with talk,
or hid from them. Or both.

Charles and I look in his windows.
There’s his famous chair.
The place is tiny, but the view is good.
We shake our heads at his solitude.
Couldn’t he have the kind of friendship
that brought us here together?

How can we keep from becoming such molluscs?
Easy, says Charles. Don’t live that long.


Hay-Henge

After the meadow was mowed and before
the bales were gathered, the students
erected a midget Stonehenge in the moonlight.
It stood there all the next day:
real from a distance, and up close
sweet-smelling and short-lived.

Off and on I’ve been pondering models:
I think they are all we have.
Snapshots, cabins, lists. Metonymies.
At Lascaux they’ve opened
a replica of the caves. I shall get
Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream . . .
The sun goes down beyond Hay-Henge;
clouds and mountains mix in the distance.


Letter to Chloe

Since you left, we’ve had
wild blackberries, northern lights,
and one grand thunderstorm.
Again, these mountains have been
Chinese with their graduated mist.
Tonight it’s clear and we hope to see
a meteor shower. I’m teaching Vaughan,
who tried to show us another world
with images of light, and knew
he needed dark to make the light more real.

I shake my head, still lost.
I’m lucky if I find a berry,
name a flower, see a shooting star.
You and I cried a little at the airport:
each parting’s a model for something bigger.
But I don’t think the models mean much.
We try to take them as they come:
A trefoil in the hand, a meteor trail
crossing the retina, a black and glinting
tart-sweet berry in the mouth.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .from Foraging, (1986)

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Poem from June, 2007

from "Four Songs on a Bone Flute"

1. Summer

This sprig of basil
out of my garden
teaches each sense –

green glow to light me
the way through the world
even the underworld

fragrance of summer
rough coasts and hills
baked in the sun

touched, it releases
even more odor
clouding my hands

flavor will hurry
all over my tongue
bursting horizons

and then there’s the song
even more rousing
for making a silence.

..................from At the White Window (2000)

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Poem from May, 2007

Walking Home on an Early Spring
.....Evening


Every microcosm needs its crow,
something to hang around and comment,
scavenge,
alight on highest branches.

Who hasn’t seen the gnats,
the pollen grains that coat the windshield ---
who hasn’t heard the tree frogs?

In the long march that takes us all our life,
in and out of sleep, sun up, sun gone,
our aging back and forth, smiling and puzzled,
there come these times: you stop and look,

and fix on something unremarkable,
a parking lot or just a patch of sumac,
but it will flare and resonate

and you’ll feel part of it for once,
you’ll be a goldfinch hanging on a feeder,
you’ll be a river system all in silver
etched on a frosty driveway, you’ll

say "Folks, I think I made it this time,
I think this is my song." The crow lifts up,
its feathers shine and whisper,

its round black eye surveys indifferently
the world we’ve made
and then the one we haven’t.

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Poem from April, 2007

Easter Ghazal

Dreaming the dead back to life: pleasure & gentleness.
Grateful for this miracle, this bubble of reunion.

Harps bounce & hum there in the firmament.
The fundament. Coining likenesses. Did you say something?

Bricks crumb, bones powder: this helps make potting soil.
Clay reproduces! Ploughs heal the fields they wound.

Today we trim the rabbit’s nails upside the hutch,
Nail up the bat-house, baptize each other with the hose.

I’m flame. A flag going up a flagpole. I’m
The beetle dropped by the mother bird, picked up again.

The heart’s a tomato with lips. Woodpeckers tap hosannas.
Sleepy blips & explosions fleck love’s radar screen.

Something rises. Something drops. Elastic days!
Tonight this window’s black with possibility.

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Poem from March, 2007

from “Water Diary” (Boxcars, 1973)

walking the tracks in early March
thinking where would I store a handcar
we ponder the fast clouds my son and I
and stare at winter’s house 1 look down:
smashed grass gravel in a pool rainrings
wet rust on the tracks the creek rushing
no trains today no setting out arriving
the wind bucketing off through the trees
and sunset a skin of ice on each red puddle

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Poem from February, 2007

Section 10 of “Dancing in the Dark,”
from “Poem in Three Parts,” Earthshine

And yesterday a red-tailed hawk
killed and ate a mourning dove
in the middle of a snowstorm
in our back yard. For five minutes
that made a violent, bobbing center
for everything else in sight:
the swirl of flakes, the pine boughs humped with snow,
the smaller birds who fled,
our curious eyes and breath.
And then the center shifted.

Any still point we choose
is relative to observation;
the planet rolled ahead, dragging
its dead and gorgeous moon,
great storms shot up on the sun,
whole galaxies stood by and gleamed,
and maybe an owl in a hollow tree
two hundred yards away from us
swiveled his head and blinked,
hearing the little death.
The hawk rose up, his tail a flare of rust,
and a sprinkle of torn feathers
began to blow across the blood-patched snow
till we could see no more.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .February, 1985

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Poem from January, 2007

Two New Year's Poems by DU FU
0oo0 o00(from a manuscript in progress)

1. What a Night!

What a night this is --
old year out, new one in

long watch, bright candles
none of their light wasted

here in the local inn
what pastimes do we have?

we can throw dice
to keep ourselves amused

one man leans across the table
begging for five to come up

another rolls up his sleeves
before he throws and loses

all the politicians
roll dice too, and lose

but an accidental meeting
might just bring good fortune

don’t laugh at that!
remember that nonentity, Liu I,

penniless
and willing to risk millions!

ooooooooooooooooooooooooDated 746


2. New Year's Eve at TU WEI's

It’s best to watch the year depart
with members of the family

singing songs
drinking pepper wine

nervous, out in the stables,
the horses make a racket

the crows are rousted from the trees
by all the torches and lanterns

tomorrow I leave
my fortieth year

my life has started to race
downhill, toward its evening

and what is the use of caution
the value of restraint?

better to put my cares aside
and just get drunk.

ooooooooooooooooooooooooDated 751

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Poem from December, 2006

Christmas: Ohio and Capolongo

Like a soft doll the raptured angel lolls
above the dusty crèche; lights flicker
in all the downtown trees, while carols
crisscross the air from boxy speakers.

I’m in two places now: my country,
where the Nativity is clumsy but familiar,
and that inept museum, east of Nervi,
which shows me crèches of another order:

elaborate pageants, carefully arranged,
all lace and straw and flat-out piety,
the underside of what made art both strange
and wonderful, that Catholic sense of deity.

We’re never going to get God right. But we
learn to love all our failures on the way.

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Poem from November, 2006

Tree Time-Trips

.....1
My shoes crush acorns.
I’m thirty-nine I’m seven.
Far down the yard
my father and a neighbor
sail horseshoes through the air.

The clank and settle.

And the past I thought would dwindle
arcs back to me, a hoop.

The men wipe their necks,
the boy walks round the oak:
sometimes our lives rust gently,
a long-handled shovel, leaned
against a sun-warmed wall.

.....2
Fourteen, I perch on the wicker seat
in a nimbus of misery, love’s shrimp,
hearing the streetcar’s crackle and hiss
as the drugstore turns on its corner.

And what was real? The whipped sparks,
the glove puppets, bobbing, the pocket dreams,
this poem-to-be, my father’s wharf
of set belief, the wicker and shellac?

Learning to be imperfect –
that’s erudition!
Like coolies in flooded fields,
we wade on our own reflections.

.....3
November bleach and brownout. Acid sky,
falsetto sunlight, wire and fluff of weeds, pods,
bone and paper grass-clumps. The dog bounds off,
stitching the field with her nose. Hound city.

It’s thirteen years. Different dog, same field,
and double grief: dull for the slumped president,
stake-sharp for my friend’s ripped heart – faint
night-cries in the mansions where we lived.

But the bullet grooves are gone, the first dog’s dead,
and here is the field, seedy and full of sameness.
Speech fails, years wrinkle. Dream covers dream

that covered dream. My head starts up a jazz
I never could concoct. I have to grin. On the cold pond
the tinsmith wind is whistling at his work.

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Poem form October, 2006

October Couplets

1
Again the cold: shot bolt, blue shackle,
oxalic acid, bleaching a rubber cuff,

a cow-eyed giantess, burning roots and brush,
the streak and smash of clouds, loud settling jays,

crows roosting closer – my older-by-one-year bones
have their own dull hum, a blues: it’s all plod,

but they want to go on, above timberline,
to boulders, florets, ozone, then go free

in the old mill that the wind and the frost run
all day all night under the gauze and gaze of stars.

2
Somewhere between sperm cell and clam shell
this space cruiser takes me places I’d rather

stay clear of: a planet all graveyard, mowed,
graveled and paved, bride-light and parson-shade,

or a milkweed, bitter, about to burst, or a dropped
acorn even a squirrel didn’t want, browning to black,

and I have to learn to relax with it all, to sing
“Where the bee sucks, there suck I,” though the lily

is sticky and choking, bees don’t suck, and the sting
is a greeting you never recover from.

3
“Steam of consciousness,” a student’s fluke,
makes me see a lake, linen-white at evening,

some amnesia-happy poet all curled up
sucking a rock at its black bottom;

oblivion tempts everyone, but I
would miss too much – whales and ticks,

the weather’s subtle bustle, blue crab clouds,
my kite rising, paper and sticks, a silver ember,

while the poem’s ghost waits by the empty band shell,
does a little tango, taps out its own last line.

4
But this fall rain, somehow both thread and button,
sewing itself to the malachite grass,

beading the clubs and brushes of the spruce –
all day I have sat as if gazing over water,

wind feathering the reservoir, stupid as a church,
and thought of summer: all those burst horizons,

mineral cities, rosy meat, clean seas and shaggy islands,
the wine cork popping in the grape arbor,

these things seem better and clearer and than gods just now,
raspberries hung like lamps among their brambles.

5
These leaves, these paper cutouts drifting my yard,
stars, fish, mitten, saddles: the badges and epaulets

of emptiness – last night in my dream
I was the killer, the guard who failed to stop him,

and the child who froze and was spared. Nothing lasts,
sang the crowd, and I answered, It sure does;

Is nothing sacred, roared the statesman – I do
believe it is, said I . . . I wake and shave,

still full of my dreamflood – oh skim milk sky,
oh brown star curling in my hand . . .

rule

Poem from September, 2006

Mesa Verde

1.
Drive up with me.

Show the way, magpie, across the invisible bridge.

Old ghosts, be near,
but not too near.

September, early morning, not a trace of haze.
Rabbit brush glows like sulphur
and the mesa dozes in sunlight.
The corner-eye specter on the trail
is a rock or a piñon stump
or a tourist aiming a camera.
Sun-shimmer and squint. The gorges
lie silent and waterless
like dreams of river valleys
that rivers never made.

Climb into me, Anasazi,
take my tongue and language,
tell how you came to farm the corn,
hoarding the snow-melt, learned
to be weavers, potters, masons
in the huge American daylight,
gathering pine nuts, hunting mule deer,
crushed juniper berries with water,
mixed them in cornmeal for our thick blue bread
-- what was our word for bread? --
and praised the gods, hunched in our smoky kivas,
singing over the soul-hole
the mystery of our birth
when first a man crawled out
from warm dark to open air.

We farmed till the droughts got worse,
the corn and squash and beans
shriveled and died, the game thinned out,
and we moved down to live
in the scoops and pockets of cliffs
where water seeped and food could be hoarded,
two hundred feet below the dizzy rim,
nine hundred feet above the canyon floor
perching like squirrels and jays
because the gods decided
(what were the names of the gods?)
that life had been too easy,
that snows should stop and water shrink
and we too nest against the canyon walls
mindful of hardship.

2.
Silence again. Silence in Spruce Tree Lodge,
at Hovenweep, Chaco Canyon,
stone and sunlight resting against each other
and no ghosts coming to converse
at nightfall when the stars spring out
and we stand on the rimrock, staring up
at the Bear and the hunters chasing him,
at the stocky women, grinding corn
among dogs, turkeys, children,
while smoke floats from the kiva
and snow-fluff crowns the sagebrush.

Silence, solstice to equinox.
Empty granaries, cold firepits, dry cisterns.
The sun walks through the canyon,
peering under the sandstone overhangs,
and the wind walks too, wearing pine-smell.
Skull-jar and serviceberry,
sipapu and alcove,
a ghostly sea of buffalo
tossing on the plains below.

And the light slips off
among the rifted mesas,
the dead are wrapped in turkey-feather blankets,
rabbit-fur robes, yucca mats,
and buried in the trashpiles,
while the living move south or west
in search of food and water
leaving it all to the sun and wind and stars
who lived here first.

The night is dreamless,
a star-chart, a crescent wrench moon,
and the air hangs quietly
a sea whose bottom you walk
looking up through the empty miles,
the rocks around you liked turned backs.

The sun cracks earth, the frost splits rocks.
What’s history if it falls away,
if the brick-colored woman
milling corn in the courtyard
isn’t kin to us, can’t leave this landscape,
neighbor horizon and brother canyon wren,
toehold and rampart,
the old river of belief
that pounds through empty gullies
like sunlight and moonlight
leaving them undisturbed?

Touch me. Moisten my mouth,
dazzle my eyes. Link me for a moment to the life
that wore on gently here
and left these ruins to the sun.

3.
In the swept museum,
smaller than hummingbirds
these people kneel and climb in little models
weaving their tiny baskets
hoarding their dollhouse ears of corn.

And who doesn’t crouch below some diorama
while sunlight moves across a mesa.
hearing the call of raven,
glimpsing the Steller’s jay?

I write this on an overhang, a porch,
against a California canyon
that runs down to the sea;
across the way the houses perch and nestle
among the live oaks, palms, and avocado trees.
Hummingbirds float through my eucalyptus
like strange little fingers, or gods,
while the raven’s shadow travels the rough slope,
wrinkling and stretching,
recollection of another life.

The hummingbird comes to rest, midair,
and the mind meshes with other minds,
lost patterns of thought that hang
over the mesa, across the hillsides,
in pools of light and shadow,
and make us bow in thought or prayer,
silence or speech,
while the sun that walked this canyon
when it was brown and empty
and will have it so again
carries the day away
through dry and shining air.

. . . . . . . . . . . .Laguna Beach. September, 1981

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Back to poem from September, 2017
Earthshine, 1988.

Poem from August, 2017
Phenomenology for Dummies

Poem from July, 2017
Landscape with Disappearing Poet
. . . . . . . . . . . .Miroslav Holub, 1923-1998

Poem from June, 2017
from "Broken Field Running"

Poem from May, 2017
The Fragrance of Orchids

Poem from April, 2017
from "The Light Show" III, 2:

Poem from March, 2017
Dinner Time

Poem from February, 2017
The Bird Feeder

Poem from January, 2017
The Poem of the Cold

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Poem from December, 2016
December Fourth, 1974

Poem from November, 2016
My Father at Ninety-Four

Poem from October, 2016
October Couplets

Poem from September, 2016
From “The Light Show,” Poem in Three Parts, Earthshine (1988)

Poem from August, 2016
Chopping Garlic

Poem from July, 2016
An early poem, c. 1962 . . .
Landscape in Three Lights

Poem from June, 2016 and November, 2008
A Ghost, to One Alive

Poem from May, 2016
Poem at Seventy
(First two sections)

Poem from April, 2016
Swithin

Poem from March, 2016
Wind, Rain, Light

Poem from February, 2016
Small Muliple Elegy

Poem from January, 2016
Hymn to the eye from

Names of a Hare in English (1979)

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Poem from December, 2015
The Snow Bird

Poem from November, 2015
Reading Yannis Ritso in November

Poem from October, 2015
My Mother at Eighty-Eight

Poem from September, 2015
LEDA

Poem from August, 2015
“It’s a Whole World, the Body. A Whole World!”

Poem from July, 2015
Three Walks

Poem from June, 2015
One Who Came Back
. . . . . . . . . . . .
for Franz Wright

Poem from May, 2015
The Poem Against the Hoizon

Poem from April, 2015
Walking Home on an Early Spring Evening

Poem from March, 2015
March 10, 2001

Poem from February, 2015
The Hour of Blue Snow

Poem from January, 2015
Lullaby for the Elderly

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Poem from December, 2014
On Neglecting to Baptize a Child

Poem from November, 2014
The Light Collector

Poem from October, 2014
October's Stem and Head-Piece

Poem from September, 2014
August Notes

Poem from August, 2014
The Reapers

Poem from July, 2014
Three sections from Night Thoughts

Poem from June, 2014
How Music Began

Poem from May, 2014
Midwestern Families

Poem from April, 2014
Landscape with Grief Train

Poem from March, 2014
The Secret Life of Light

Poem from February, 2014
Fang's Amazing Horse

Poem from January, 2014
Chleo in Late January

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Poem from December, 2013
Nineteen Sixty-three

Poem from November, 2013
Four About Metaphisics

Poem from for October, 2013 and October, 2008
Autumn Ghazal

Poem from September, 2013
Two Villanelles

Exceptions to the Rules
and
Villanelle

Poem from August, 2013
A Sonnet from the Sequence, "Cloudstown Lightfall"

Poem from July, 2013
Half of Life

Poem from June, 2013
Writing Poems After Dinner at The Zuo's

Poem from May, 2013
The Fool's Tale

Poem from April, 2013
In Heaven

Poem from March, 2013
Walking Around Retired in Ohio

Poem from February, 2013
Winter Remembered

Poem from January, 2013
After Fujiwara no Teika

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Poem from Decmber, 2012
Blake Labrador

Poem from November, 2012
Late November: The Wolves at the Cleveland Zoo

Poem from October, 2012
The Language Question

Poem from September, 2012
Occasional Sonnets

Poem from August, 2012
The Lemons

Poem from July, 2012
At the White Window

Poem from June, 2012
Old

Poem from May, 2012
In Exile

Poem from April, 2012
from Earthshine (1988)

Poem from March, 2012
Poem for Adlai Stevenson and Yellow Jackets

Poem from February, 2012
The House Was Quiet on a Winter Afternoon

Poem from January, 2012
Piano Practice
from Rainer Mria Rilke

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Poem from December, 2011
from Six Ghosts

Poem from November, 2011
from Leopardi: L'Infinito

Poem from October, 2011
from Four by Bashio

Poem from September, 2011
from My Little 9-11 Poem

Poem from August, 2011
from Stevens Ghazal

Poem from July, 2011
from Thunder in the Marsh

Poem from June, 2011
from June 17, 2003

Poem from May, 2011
from Sonnels to Orpheus (II, 25)

Poem from April, 2011
More Basho Translations

Poem from March, 2011
Mirror Ghazal

Poem from February, 2011
Pelee Island, Lake Erie

Poem from January, 2011
Five Winter Haiku by Basho

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Poem from December, 2010
In the Afternoon

Poem from November, 2010
Fall Day

Poem from October, 2010
Kitchen Ruckus

Poem from September, 2010
Visiting the Fengxian Monastery

Poem from August, 2010
David Young Meets the Ghost of Wallace Stevens
on an August Night in His Back Yard

Poem from July, 2010
from A Painting of a Falcon

Poem from June, 2010
from Thoughts of Chairman Mao

Poem from May, 2010
from Henry Vaughan

Poem from April, 2010
from The Light Show

Poem from March, 2010
Whichever Stone You Pick Up

Poem from February, 2010
from 'Water Diary'

Poem from January, 2010
January 3, 2003

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Poem from December, 2009
Basho

Poem from November, 2009
Oh Salmon-Colored Edsel, Run Us Down

Poem from October, 2009
Hearing You Read

Poem from September, 2009
A Country Postcard

Poem from August, 2009
Mother

Poem from July, 2009
The Day Nabokov Died

Poem from June, 2009
June 17, 2003

Poem from May, 2009
Kohoutek

Poem from April, 2009
Root Vegetable Ghazal

Poem from March, 2009
Poem for Wrists

Poem from February, 2009
Blake's 'Dante and Virgil Penetrating the Forest' (1824)

Poem from January, 2009
Skeleton

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Poem from December, 2008
December Fourth, 1974

Poem from November, 2008 and June, 2016
A Ghost, to One Alive

Poem from October, 2008
Autumn Ghazal

Poem from September, 2008
The Portable Earth-Lamp

Poem from August, 2008
The Picture Says

Poem from July, 2008
July Morning Vision

Poem from June, 2008
Four About Death

Poem from May, 2008
Bonuses

Poem from April, 2008
The Self: A Sonnet Sequence

Poem from March, 2008
A Lowercase Alphabet

Poem from February, 2008
Chopping Garlic

Poem from January, 2008
A Calendar: The Beautiful Names of the Months

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Poem from December, 2007
The Poem of the Cold

Poem from November, 2007
At the Back of the Year in a High Wind

Poem from October, 2007
October's Stem and Head-Piece

Poem from September, 2007
Poem About Hopping

Poem from August, 2007
Putting My Father's Ashes in the Cemetary at Springville Iowa

Poem from July, 207
Vermont Summer: Three Snapshots, One Letter

Poem from June, 2007
from "Four Songs on a Bone Flute"

Poem from May, 2007
Waking Home on an Early Spring Evening

Poem from April, 2007
Easter Ghazal

Poem from March, 2007
from "Water Diary" (Boxcars, 1973)

Poem from February, 2007
Section 10 of "Dancing in the Dark,"
from "Poem in Three Parts," Earthshine

Poem from January, 2007
Two New Year's Poems by DU FU

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Poem from December, 2006
Christmas: Ohio and Capolongo

Poem from November, 2006
Three Time-Trips

Poem from October, 2006
October Couplets

Poem from September, 2006
Mesa Verde

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