Why this?

The occasional poem of my own and a generous helping of work by others that I find inspiring. Site is named for a beloved book by one of my favorite writers, Italo Calvino, whose fanciful work lights--and delights--my soul.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Past

What we remember of it
is what we began to memorize 
as children, rehearsing 
the same scenes again and again
until we got them perfect,
the father, the mother, the sister
entering from left to right,
obeying the arrows and Xs
chalked onto the stage,
saying their lines precisely 
as we would have them said
until these dramas were fixed
in tableaux, enameled mannequins
nodding in storefronts,
raising their hands to comfort
or strike, while our shapes
in the shimmering glass
appear to be standing among them.
And if someone should call
one of our scenes into question,
we rush to its defense, 
afraid that the window will crack
and collapse with a crash
and we will have nowhere to turn
to see ourselves reflected 
in what we have so carefully
created and directed.

--Ted Kooser

A Mouse in a Trap

A tiny wood raft was afloat
on the cold gray sea
of the cellar floor, and to it
a dead mouse clung,
trailing its legs and tail, the ship
of the rest of its life
swallowed up without leaving
so much as a ripple.
I felt the firm deck of the day
tilt just a little, as if all of us
living, surviving, had rushed
to one side to look down.

--Ted Kooser

Changing Drivers

Their nondescript, late-model car 
is pulled off on the windy shoulder, 
its doors flung wide, and the driver 
gets out, gripping the roof with a hand 
and lifting himself just as the woman 
gets out of her side, both of them stiff, 
both kneading the small of their backs, 
rolling their heads on their necks, 
squinting into the midday sun. 
Then the driver starts out around 
the front bumper, swinging his legs 
as if they weren't his, his thin hair lifting, 
just as the woman straightens herself 
and sets out around the trunk, holding 
her permanent's white curls in place 
with both hands, both man and woman 
calling a few words back and forth 
across the axis of the car's hot roof 
as they stoop and fit themselves inside 
and the car's springs settle a little, 
and each of them reaches a long way out 
to pull the doors shut, her door first 
then his, and they rock and shift, 
fastening their belts, then both of them 
lean forward, almost simultaneously, 
and peer into their side-view mirrors 
to see whatever is bearing down 
from wherever they've been, and together 
they ease out over the crunching gravel 
onto the highway and move on.

--Ted Kooser

An Incident

On the sidewalk in front of the parking garage, a blind man who has fallen is attended by three firemen, a medic, and two policemen, all of whom squat on their heels and by so doing cover the fallen man with shadow. He sits among them with his legs splayed out, undoubtedly feeling their shadows putting cool hands on his face, and he reaches out a long way through darkness to rest his white fingers on the shoulder of his seeing-eye dog, a big, dull-looking black retriever, whose tongue is dripping, for this is a warm day in October, the afternoon sun tiny but fierce in the sky. The dog's plain face is bright with uneasy patience and the blind man's eyes are wide and white, as if a hand had risen up from the darkness inside him and taken his heart in its grip and pulled him down.

Two fire trucks and a squad car idle in the street. People are stopping nearby to see what has happened and what will happen next. Each of us is filled to the throat with some part of the same one fear, as if we had been gathered here to bear it away, and now a few of us turn from the fallen man and walk away or get back into our cars, each of us carrying part of the man's great fear, and it seems that perhaps because of this he now is feeling better, as he gets to his feet in the opening circle and shakes out his arms as if he were suddenly lighter. 

--Ted Kooser

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Little Creative Energy to Fly: A Tribute

"So we are fortunate that our memories give us a time machine to a past that seems immediate and not quaint, that is in color and not in black and white, and that those memories are often sharpened and deepened by the holidays. If we have a moment to pause and reflect (before or after shopping and eating) they might offer us a little creative energy to fly—or at least float in a dignified manner—all the way into the New Year."

--Deb Atherton, aka, One Shimmering Lady

Friday, December 12, 2014

Gate 4-A

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been detained four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate 4-A understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.”  Well – one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there. An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. “Help,” said the Flight Service Person. “Talk to her. What is her problem?  We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”  I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke to her haltingly. “Shu dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “You’re fine, you’ll get there, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.” We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to her – Southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for fun. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends.  Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up about two hours. She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions.  She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies – little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts – out of her bag – and was offering them to all the women at the gate.  To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo – we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie. And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving us all apple juice and they were covered with powdered sugar too. And I noticed my new best friend – by now we were holding hands – had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere. And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in.  The shared world. Not a single person in this gate – once the crying of confusion stopped – seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

--Naomi Shihab Nye

Inexorable Deities

Deities!
Inexorable revealers,
Give me strength to endure
The gifts of the Muses,
Daughters of Memory.
When the sky is blue as Minerva’s eyes
Let me stand unshaken;
When the sea sings to the rising sun
Let me be unafraid;
When the meadow lark falls like a meteor
Through the light of afternoon,
An unloosened fountain of rapture,
Keep my heart from spilling
Its vital power;
When at the dawn
The dim souls of crocuses hear the calls
Of waking birds,
Give me to live but master the loveliness.
Keep my eyes unharmed from splendors
Unveiled by you,
And my ears at peace
Filled no less with the music
Of Passion and Pain, growth and change.
But O ye sacred and terrible powers,
Reckless of my mortality,
Strengthen me to behold a face,
To know the spirit of a beloved one
Yet to endure, yet to dare!

--Edgar Lee Masters

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Meeting After Many Years

Our words were a few colorful leaves
afloat on a very old silence,
the kind with a terrifying undertow,
and we stood right at its edge,
wrapping ourselves in our own arms
because of the chill, and with old voices
called back and forth acoss all those years
until we could bear it no longer,
and turned from each other,
and walked away into our countries.

--Ted Kooser

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Steamed Fish Supper

And this.

Cold

On this early morning in Vancouver, my son and I stop 
on our way to breakfast when we hear 
the Kenyan will soon be running past this corner. 
Of course we want to see his gorgeous stride, 
but after half an hour I'm shivering 
in my thin sweater. That's when my son begins 
to rub my back--offering up the heat of his palms. 
What could be better than to stand here hungry 
and be curried like this? If I hadn't been cold 
I wouldn't have his hands on my spine,
flaring across my shoulder blades. For a moment 
it seems possible that every frailty, every pain, 
could be an opening, a crack that lets the unexpected 
reach us. How can I remember this 
when I'm old and need so much? 

--Ellen Bass

From "I Drink Bronze Light"

Great American summer lakes
right now I am flying above you
through a rare cloudless transparent sky
back to the city where it is always
cold even in summer
the round hole I press my face against
shows only a blue expanse
with white sails below
speckled exactly the way
the Aegean would have been
three thousand years ago
if one could have seen it from above
maybe riding in the dark claw
of a god who didn't care
through the round window
weird white light
bounces off the cubes in my glass
of clear diet soda that tastes 
completely theoretical. 

--Matthew Zapruder

Bitch Diary

Porco cane! Another day breaks 
with a gunshot and a chorus 
of yelping bloodhounds after boar. 

I ache to join in, but stay quiet, loyal 
dog-pig that I am. Pig-dog. 
Purebred cur in a pen: Sono io. 

The hunt's trained out of me. 
Bark and growl, the baser instincts, 
I renounced them long ago. 

My tail springs up 
like an erection 
at the smell of animal, 

but the chase 
is forbidden. Always, 
my inner down girl! 

prevails. It never fails. 
Not for me the bait of barnyard cats 
and wild-goose foxes. I know 

not to waste my nose 
on vulgar game 
or public sport.

I save myself
for the hidden 
and vegetal.

I stalk the peculiar scent, wave
my tail like a secret banner when I catch the smell,
and follow the musk in silence

with a steady walk
to the still,
earthbound thing.

I paw the surface for a sign
--root-mold, fungus, spore--
then dig and claw

just to the tip of the tuber
till desire trumps dirt and 
I lift the truffle.

I keep my panting discreet 
and always deliver.
God, I am one good dog.

My mantra: Abhor blood.
Leave the surface to others;
dwell in the underworld. 

--Peg Boyers

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Morning Nocturne

I am glad today is dark. No sun. Sky
ribboning with amorphous, complicated
layers. I prefer cumulus on my
morning beach run. What more can we worry
about? Our parents are getting older
and money is running out. The children
are leaving, the new roof is damaged by
rain and rot. I fear the thrashing of the sea
in its unrest, the unforgiving cricket.
But that’s not it. The current is rising.
The dramas are playing out. Perhaps
it’s better to be among these sandpipers
with quick feet dashing out of the surf than
a person who wishes to feel complete.

--Jill Bialosky

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

There Is Absolutely Nothing Lonelier

There is absolutely nothing lonelier
than the little Mars rover
never shutting down, digging up
rocks, so far away from Bond street
in a light rain. I wonder
if he makes little beeps? If so
he is lonelier still. He fires a laser
into the dust. He coughs. A shiny
thing in the sand turns out to be his.

--Matthew Rohrer

What is the Grass?

The child asks, bringing it to me in handfuls.
We stop at the Walt Whitman Service Area—
No sign of Him save some “Democratic Vistas”
& “Drum Taps” on a plaque near the Micky D’s

Let’s go find the grass
I say to my two-year-old beauty and
We pick one blade from the median
Then back we go in the forever car

Hours later, pulling into Richmond
She, half awake in my arms mumbles

Let’s go find the grass

--Lee Ann Brown

Our Never

Is the never of childhood, deeper
than the never of adolescence,
which has a whining, stammering
quality, which is a stamped foot
followed by huffing steps, and wholly
unlike the never of adulthood,
has none of the bright spider
cracks of reason multiplying
along its roof, threading its dark
dome with fine lines of light.
Didn’t you think, with such a
cavernous never in mind,
you might have consulted me?
Even a 3 AM phone call would’ve
been justified. On the line
in the dark, you could have shared
a little childhood mythology,
told me about some night when
you didn’t sleep, couldn’t hear
your parents, and morning seemed
further away than “far away,”
seemed consigned to a distinct
and inimitable never.  You could’ve
evoked for me the particular textures
of that never, explained that
you were mulling them again now,
assaying them for a contemporary
application. Sure, I’d have been
startled. What would you expect—
hearing how your childhood bed
sank into a hollow in the earth,
or how nighttime had, snickering,
closed you in its trench coat, and
how the residue of the experience,
the resin it left, you were brewing
into something for us. I’d have
wanted to see you right away
and would have been myself
forced to wait till next morning.
So, I, too, would’ve spent
an evening in an underground
hollow, or bundled up inside
night’s coat, wading through
one never on the off chance
that I could forestall another.

--Benjamin S. Grossberg

Monday, October 27, 2014

Charles Simic on Joseph Cornell

A toy is a trap for dreamers. The true toy is a poetic object.

There’s an early sculpture of Giacometti’s called The Palace at 4 A.M. (1932). It consists of no more than a few sticks assembled into a spare scaffolding, which the mysterious title makes haunting and unforgettable. Giacometti said that it was a dream house for him and the woman with whom he was in love.

These are dreams that a child would know. Dreams in which objects are renamed and invested with imaginary lives. A pebble becomes a human being. Two sticks leaning against each other make a house. In that world one plays the game of being someone else.

This is what Cornell is after... How to construct a vehicle of reverie, an object that would enrich the imagination of the viewer and keep him company forever.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Healers

I encountered a scaffold
outside the Holy Trinity Church in Vladimir, Russia.
At first I didn’t notice her
slumped against the side of the church — 
she was pretty small for a scaffold, pretty un-
assuming. Her safety mesh
was torn in places and sun-bleached all over
and threatened to dislodge
due to a forceful wind that was typical
of the season. She was shaking.
She was fundamentally insecure.
She told me that good foundations are essential
and that the men who had put her together
hadn’t taken advantage of the right opportunities.
Now, each day, someone came by
called her “unsafe” and also “a liability”
then left, failing to initiate the dismantling process
that yes would have been painful
and slow, but kinder.
International visitors to the church
blamed her for the mess of tools and rags
on the grounds and for the fact
that they could no longer see
the church’s celebrated mural
depicting Saint Artemy of Verkola
unusually pious
highly venerated
child saint killed by lightning.
His dead body radiated light
never showed signs of decay
and was in fact said to have effected
multiple miracles of healing.
I said comforting things to the scaffold
but she only seemed to lean more heavily
against the side of the church.
We are rarely independent structures she said
before she dropped a bolt pin
which released a long section of tube
which released another bolt pin
which released several wooden boards
that scraped another tube
and made an unbearable sound.

--Sophie Collins

and set off across the rough miles of desk

"Ant" by Matthew Francis in the current issue of Poetry

Friday, October 10, 2014

I am still every age that I have been

I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be. ... Far too many people misunderstand what "putting away childish things" means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup. When I'm with these people I, like the kids, feel that if this is what it means to be a grown-up, then I don't ever want to be one. Instead of which, if I can retain a child's awareness and joy, and *be* fifty-one, then I will really learn what it means to be grownup.Madeleine L’Engle

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Claim

Once during that year
when all I wanted
was to be anything other
than what I was,
the dog took my wrist
in her jaws. Not to hurt
or startle, but the way
a wolf might, closing her mouth
over the leg of another 
from her pack. Claiming me
like anything else: the round luck
of her supper dish or the bliss
of rabbits, their infinite 
grassy cities. Her lips
and teeth circled
and pressed, tireless
pressure of the world 
that pushes against you
to see if you're there,
and I could feel myself
inside myself again, muscle
to bone to the slippery
core where I knew
next to nothing
about love. She wrapped
my arm as a woman might wrap
her hand through the loop
of a leash—as if she
were the one holding me
at the edge of a busy street,
instructing me to stay.

--Kasey Jueds

A Blessing

To be able to trust your eyes–that’s a great blessing.
To believe that the pane of glass in your upstairs window
Is in fact transparent, that the narrow
Winding streets seeming to lie beyond it
Are not a reflection of something narrow
And dark within you, just a winding passage
That will lead, eventually, to an open square.
To believe you’re entitled, when you reach it,
To sit on a bench in the sun by the marble fountain,
That you haven’t come to envy the beautiful,
To belittle it, to despoil it. No.
You’re here to muse on the possibility
It can serve you as an example,
As a lesson in taking pleasure in what you are,
In giving pleasure by not withholding.
Maybe this gracious self is the person
Your friends have noticed from the beginning.
Your inability to observe it so far
Needn’t mean they’re deluded, just that their distance
Provides them the chance to see you whole.
Maybe whatever you need to do
To deserve their loyalty you’ve done already.
If you then do more, it could mean your heart
Has committed itself to overflowing
And you’ve chosen to let it have its way.

--Carl Dennis

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Moth, the Mountains, the Rivers

Who can guess the luna's sadness who lives so
briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone
longing to be ground down, to be part again of
something livelier? Who can imagine in what
heaviness the rivers remember their original
clarity?

Strange questions, yet I have spent worthwhile
time with them. And I suggest them to you also,
that your spirit grow in curiosity, that your life
be richer than it is, that you bow to the earth as
you feel how it actually is, that we--so cleaver, and
ambitious, and selfish, and unrestrained--are only
one design of the moving, the vivacious many.

--Mary Oliver

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

--Mary Oliver

Foolishness? No, It's Not

Sometimes I spend all day trying to count 
the leaves on a single tree. To do this I 
have to climb branch by branch and 
write down the numbers in a little book. 
So I suppose, from their point of view, 
it's reasonable that my friends say: what 
foolishness! She's got her head in the clouds 
again.

But it's not. Of course I have to give up, 
but by then I'm half crazy with the wonder 
of it--the abundance of the leaves, the 
quietness of the branches, the hopelessness 
of my effort. And I am in that delicious 
and important place, roaring with laughter, 
full of earth-praise.

--Mary Oliver

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Manic Panic

Live fast
and dye your hair.

That’s what I wrote on my
Converse in 8th grade.

Maybe it was the way
the feeling pulled me

like a girl
pulling a ponytail.

Maybe I didn’t get the job
cause of the polka dots.

Maybe I don’t care
cause of the wave.

Today I’m blue.
Tomorrow I could be anywhere.

All these pop songs about dying young
like it’s gonna be so epic.

The only difference between 8th grade
and now is the blowing up

the use of color
& perspective.

Things that are with you
when you wake up

& you feel like
someone’s there.

Same rainbows
under her eyes

clouds floating in the air.

--Marisa Crawford

Saturday, September 6, 2014

In the current P&W mag, interview with Edward Hirsch

PW: Some people would say that there isn’t enough poetry of joy nowadays—that contemporary poetry needs to lighten up.

EH: I think to have poetry, you need to have all kinds of different poets. We need poets who write playful, funny poems, poets who write light verse; I don’t think we should neglect that. But should that be the defining feature of your poetry? Is that how you want your poetry to be remembered? I guess that’s up to people in the culture. But it’s also true that we live in a very superficial culture. We live in a culture that’s driven by entertainment, by celebrities, so there’s plenty in the culture to distract us and lighten us up. People who turn to poetry...I don’t think they’re looking for something gloomy, but I do think they’re looking for something deeper than the superficial experiences you get in the culture every day. If we’re addicted to poetry, we’re addicted to the deeper experiences that poetry gives us. We have a great challenge in our culture because of the tremendous success of the mass media. But there will always be people who will care about the deeper aspects of what it means to be human.

A Private Singularity

I used to like being young, and I still do,
Because I think I still am. There are physical
Objections to that thought, and yet what
Fascinates me now is how obsessed I was at thirty-five
With feeling older than I was: it seemed so smart
And worldly, so fastidiously knowing to dwell so much
On time — on what it gives, what it destroys, on how it feels.
And now it’s here and doesn’t feel like anything at all:
A little warm perhaps, a little cool, but mostly waiting on my
Life to fill it up, and meanwhile living in the light and listening
To the music floating through my living room each night.
It’s something you can only recognize in retrospect, long after
Everything that used to fill those years has disappeared
And they’ve become regrets and images, leaving you alone
In a perpetual present, in a nondescript small room where it began.
You find it in yourself: the ways that led inexorably from
Home to here are simply stories now, leading nowhere anymore;
The wilderness they led through is the space behind a door
Through which a sentence flows, following a map in the heart.
Along the way the self that you were born with turns into
The self that you created, but they come together at the end,
United in the memory where time began: the tinkling of a bell
On a garden gate in Combray, or the clang of a driven nail
In a Los Angeles backyard, or a pure, angelic clang in Nova Scotia — 
Whatever age restores. It isn’t the generalizations that I loved
At thirty-five that move me now, but particular moments
When my life comes into focus, and the feeling of the years
Between them comes alive. Time stops, and then resumes its story,
Like a train to Balbec or a steamer to Brazil. We moved to San Diego,
Then I headed east, then settled in the middle of the country
Where I’ve waited now for almost forty years, going through the
Motions of the moments as they pass from now to nothing,
Reading by their light. I don’t know why I’m reading them again — 
Elizabeth Bishop, Proust. The stories you remember feel like mirrors,
And rereading them like leafing through your life at a certain age,
As though the years were pages. I keep living in the light
Under the door, waiting on those vague sensations floating in
And out of consciousness like odors, like the smell of sperm and lilacs.
In the afternoon I bicycle to a park that overlooks Lake Michigan,
Linger on a bench and read Contre Sainte-Beuve and Time Reborn,
A physics book that argues time is real. And that’s my life — 
It isn’t much, and yet it hangs together: its obsessions dovetail
With each other, as the private world of my experience takes its place
Within a natural order that absorbs it, but for a while lets it live.
It feels like such a miracle, this life: it promises everything,
And even keeps its promise when you’ve grown too old to care.
It seems unremarkable at first, and then as time goes by it
Starts to seem unreal, a figment of the years inside a universe
That flows around them and dissolves them in the end,
But meanwhile lets you linger in a universe of one — 
A village on a summer afternoon, a garden after dark,
A small backyard beneath a boring California sky.
I said I still felt young, and so I am, yet what that means
Eludes me. Maybe it’s the feeling of the presence
Of the past, or of its disappearance, or both of them at once — 
A long estrangement and a private singularity, intact
Within a tinkling bell, an iron nail, a pure, angelic clang — 
The echo of a clear, metallic sound from childhood,
Where time began: “Oh, beautiful sound, strike again!”

--John Koethe

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Catacombs of the past

The scholar who descends into the catacombs of the past is endangered; he may lose his way. A given period, or a millennium, may become more real than the century he inhabits in the flesh. The documents may prove extensive; thread leads on to thread, passage to passage. My card files thickened with material tangential to the purpose with which I started. Similarly the dedicated archaeologist, laboring under an enormous compulsion, may hasten to the next tumulus carrying his discoveries only in his mortal head, while disease or a viper under a stone can suddenly ease his achievement. Equivalent perils confront the delver into libraries. 

Several years of toil passed with every spare moment occupied in a way that would have astounded and troubled the brisk young editor. I was becoming insubstantial, the present with its publishing schedules a bothersome encumbrance. My laboriously scrawled cards, which only I could decipher, continued their extension through fireproof cases that still line my walls. At this point two things threaten the researcher. 


First, he may become so lost below ground, trail leading on to trail, that he may never emerge to publish. He may be stricken by a phobia of incompleteness. He may become a perfectionist who will not set pen to paper until he has consulted every document of the century in which he has come to live. The past has infiltrated his arteries and his brain; he no longer has a sense of mortality. He has lost the realization that the flesh-and-blood inhabitants of his chosen period went about their affairs as living and limited human beings.


No man could possibly assimilate every lie, half truth, and truth that bewitched the minds of a past century. With the relative clarity of aftervision we can attempt, at best, only some insights, some relative comprehension of ideas which will always be appraised anew by later generations. So great is the lure of documents, however, that it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of omnipotence. The drone of that buzzing fly, the publisher, recedes into the distances of the future we have unconsciously abandoned. The dust of the catacombs gathers upon our skins.


--Loren Eiseley

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Settling In [love this one!]

How I loved
each bare floor, each
naked wall, the shadows on

newly empty halls.
By day, my head humming
to itself of dreams, I cleaned and

scrubbed
to make life
new; dislodging from the corner,

the old
moths and cicadas
pinned to the screen, the carcasses

of grasshoppers
dangling from beams,
and each windowsill’s clutter of

dried beetles
and dead bees. But,
through each opening, each closing door,

the old life
returns on six legs, or
spins a musty web as it roosts over

a poison pot, or
descends from above
to drink blood in. This is how it

happens: the
settling in—the press
of wilderness returns to carved-out space, to skin.

--Jenny Factor

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

American Literature

Poets and storytellers
move into the vacancies
Edward Hopper left them.
They settle down in blank spaces
where the light has been scoured and bleached
skull-white and nothing grows
except absence. Where something is missing,
the man a woman waits for
or furniture in a room
stripped like a hospital bed
after the patient has died.
Such bereft interiors
is just what they've been looking for,
with their lumpy beds, 
their birdcages and decks of cards,
their dog-eared books, their predilection
for starting fires in empty rooms.

--Lisel Mueller

Gas

--after Edward Hopper

The lonely man
    performs some necessary ritual
      behind a pump. We cannot tell
exactly what it is he does because
    the angle is so odd. A rack of cans

of oil between
    two pumps on the island stands, as they al-
      ways do, conveniently avail-
able, in easy reach of any needy
    motorist. The light is low, and the trees,

massed heavily
    behind the man and his pumps, march darkly
      off to the right. A modest shock
of roadside weeds attends the greenery
    as it condenses. On the periphery,

out of our ken,
    shines a source of artificial light. We
      are meant to feel the clutch of the
evening. It is not benevolent. 
    The artist has invested his talent

in loneliness.
    The values and the crusty inflections
      of his particular diction
demonstrate devotion to the modest
    fears of the soul in the longest moments

of late after-
    noon. A sign hangs white above the station.
      Mobilgas and Pegasus. A 
flag of sorts, a standard, here, to more
    than gas. The language, though hard, is clear.

--Sidney Wade

Hopper's "Nighthawks" (1942)

Imagine a town where no one walks the streets.
Where the sidewalks are swept clean as ceilings and
the barber pole stands still as a corpse. There is no
wind. The windows on the brick buildings are
boarded up with doors, and a single light shines in
the all-night diner while the rest of the town sits in
its shadow.

In an hour it will be daylight. The busboy in the
diner counts the empty stools and looks at his
reflection in the coffee urns. On the radio the
announcer says the allies have won another victory.
There have been few casualties. A man with a wide-
brimmed hat and the woman sitting next to him are
drinking coffee or tea; on the other side of the
counter a stranger watches them as though he had
nowhere else to focus his eyes. He wonders if
perhaps they are waiting for the morning buses to
arrive, if they are expecting some member of their
family to bring them important news. Or perhaps 
they will get on the bus themselves, ask the driver 
where he is going, and whatever his answer they 
will tell him it could not be far enough.

When the buses arrive at sunrise they are empty as
hospital beds--the hum of the motor is distant as
a voice coming from deep within the body. The
man and woman have walked off to some dark
street, while the stranger remains fixed in his chair.
When he picks up the morning paper he's not
surprised to read there would be no exchange of
prisoners, the war would go on forever, the 
Cardinals would win the pennant, there would be 
no change in the weather.

--Ira Sadoff

Friday, June 27, 2014

No Ideas but in Things

The Importance of First Objects: a good read if you can get your hands on it.

Compost

There is magic in decay.
A dance to be done
For the rotting, the maggot strewn
Piles of flesh which pile
Upon the dung-ridden earth
And the damp that gathers
And rusts and defiles.
There is a bit of this
In even the most zoetic soul — 
The dancing child’s arms
Flailing to an old ska song
Conduct the day-old flies
Away to whatever rank
Native is closest. Just today
I was walking along the river
With my daughter in my backpack
And I opened my email
On my phone and Duffie
Had sent me a poem
Called “Compost.” I read it
To my little girl and started
To explain before I was three
Words in Selma started
Yelling, Daddy, Daddy, snake!
In the path was a snake,
Belly up and still nerve-twitching
The ghost of some passing
Bicycle or horse. Pretty, Selma said.
Yes, I said. And underneath my yes
Another yes, the yes to my body,
Just beginning to show signs
Of slack, and another, my grasping
In the dark for affirming flesh
That in turn says yes, yes
Let’s rot together but not until
We’ve drained what sap
Is left in these trees.
And I wake in the morning
And think of the coroner
Calling to ask what color
My father’s eyes were,
And I asked, Why? Why can’t
You just look — and the coroner,
Matter-of-factly says, Decay.
Do you want some eggs, my love?
I have a new way of preparing them.
And look, look outside, I think this weather
Has the chance of holding.

--Dan Chelotti

Thursday, June 19, 2014

My Brook

Earth holds no sweeter secret anywhere
Than this my brook, that lisps along the green
Of mossy channels, where slim birch trees lean
Like tall pale ladies, whose delicious hair,
Lures and invites the kiss of wanton air.
The smooth soft grasses, delicate between
The rougher stalks, by waifs alone are seen,
Shy things that live in sweet seclusion there.

And is it still the same, and do the eyes
Of every silver ripple meet the trees
That bend above like guarding emerald skies?
I turn, who read the city’s beggared book,
And hear across the moan of many seas
The whisper and the laughter of my brook.

--Helen Hay Whitney

My Father's Hats

   Sunday mornings I would reach
high into his dark closet while standing
   on a chair and tiptoeing reach
higher, touching, sometimes fumbling
   the soft crowns and imagine
I was in a forest, wind hymning
   through pines, where the musky scent
of rain clinging to damp earth was
   his scent I loved, lingering on
bands, leather, and on the inner silk
   crowns where I would smell his
hair and almost think I was being
   held, or climbing a tree, touching
the yellow fruit, leaves whose scent
   was that of a clove in the godsome
air, as now, thinking of his fabulous
   sleep, I stand on this canyon floor
and watch light slowly close
   on water I’m not sure is there.

--Mark Irwin

Thursday, June 5, 2014

From the Telephone

Out of the dark cup
Your voice broke like a flower.
It trembled, swaying on its taut stem.
The caress in its touch
Made my eyes close.

--Florence Ripley Mastin

Recognitions

When my son was a few weeks old,
replicas of his yawning face appeared
suddenly on drowsy passersby:

middle-aged man’s gape that split his beard,
old woman on a bus, a little girl—
all told a story that I recognized.

Now he is fifteen.
As my students shuffle in the door
of the classroom, any of the boys

could easily be him—
foot-dragging, also swaggering a little,
braving the perils of a public space

by moving in a wary little troop.
But the same sleepy eyes, the same soft face.
We recognize the people whom we love,

or love what we respond to as our own,
trusting that one day someone
will look at us with recognition.

--Rachel Hadas

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Absolute tension and absolute stillness

Art is like Christianity in this way: at its greatest, it can give you access to the deepest suffering you imagine—not necessarily dramatic suffering, not necessarily physical suffering, but the suffering that is in your nature, the suffering of which you must be conscious to fulfill your nature—and at the same time provide a peace that is equal to that suffering. The peace is not in place of the sorrow; the sorrow does not go away. But there is a moment of counterbalance between them that is both absolute tension and absolute stillness.

--Christian Wiman