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, November 29, 2015

Forbearance

Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?
Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk?
At rich men’s tables eaten bread and pulse?
Unarmed, faced danger with a heart of trust?
And loved so well a high behavior,
In man or maid, that thou from speech refrained,
Nobility more nobly to repay?
O, be my friend, and teach me to be thine!

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Poet of an Ordinary Heartbreak

Who hasn’t been tempted by the sharp edge of a knife?
An ordinary knife cutting ordinary tomatoes on
an ordinary slab of wood on an ordinary Wednesday.
The knife nicks, like a bite to the soul. A reminder
that what is contemplated is as real as the blood
sprouting from a finger. As real as a bruised eye.
Instead turn back to the meat stewing on the stove.
Scrape pulpy red flesh into the heat and turn.
Say: even this is a prayer. Even this.

--Chris Abani

Natural History

Tell me the world. Here comes light, unspoken.
Light hooks a claw on the horizon, pulls itself
into view. Here comes water, saline,
scattering single-celled organisms.
Land is a puppet. It climbs hydrothermal vents like stairs.
Lava congeals. Land rises. Here comes land,
hand-springing out of water. Wind is a comma,
pausing the day. At night, wind kicks its legs.
What about multi-celled life? What about invertebrates
and vertebrates? Tell me evolution.
Tell me old growth forests. Tell me a rainbow.
Tell me blue-tailed skinks. Here comes science,
explaining eyeballs. Look, here come the stars.
Here comes a commuter train, hopping the rails
and crashing into an empty sidewalk
at 2:30 in the morning. Here come sparklers.
Use them to trace letters of light in the darkness.
Here comes someone’s childhood cat. Here comes a paper
about George Washington, complete with colored
pencil illustrations of his many sets of false teeth.
Tell me bourgeois glass lanterns strung from a live oak.
Tell me a graveyard bigger than its town.
Please understand I mean no harm. Hold the phone.
Here comes Tina, hand-springing across the backyard.
Here comes a tent. Wind boxes its nylon sides,
scaring the children, their sleeping bags unfurled
and arranged like daisy petals. Tell me a flashlight.

--Rebecca Lehmann

Friday, November 20, 2015

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

--Naomi Shihab Nye

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Altitude

I wonder
how it would be here with you,
where the wind
that has shaken off its dust in low valleys
touches one cleanly,
as with a new-washed hand,
and pain
is as the remote hunger of droning things,
and anger
but a little silence
sinking into the great silence.

--Lola Ridge

Advice to a Blue-Bird

Who can make a delicate adventure
Of walking on the ground?
Who can make grass-blades
Arcades for pertly careless straying?
You alone, who skim against these leaves,
Turning all desire into light whips
Moulded by your deep blue wing-tips,
You who shrill your unconcern
Into the sternly antique sky.
You to whom all things
Hold an equal kiss of touch.

Mincing, wanton blue-bird,
Grimace at the hoofs of passing men.
You alone can lose yourself
Within a sky, and rob it of its blue!

--Maxwell Bodenheim

Friday, November 6, 2015

Return from Antarctica

[Translated]

He can still hear it:
the glaciers rasping,
their ratcheting in the distance,
the snow-quiet.

And still he remembers
gulping unsullied freshness
to clarify his lungs,
the holy coldness blessing his skin.

He gave his heart
to that stinging brightness,
that taciturn redoubt,
that uncluttered country.

But no choice except a return
to dampness and home.
He had to turn
his back on blankness.

On so many nights
his wife asks him tentatively
to abandon the kitchen
and join her upstairs.

He loves the irregular loneliness
of each tap-drip
and it’s music to him
the refrigerator’s drone:

basso profundo
slow in the recital,
grinding sighs that call out
to his being’s every melting element.

--Ailbhe Ni Ghearbhuigh

Nuggets

Emptied, precious, querulous, frail,
a box of butter biscuits by the bedside,
dun pills in a pale plastic tray,
your grandmother lies in her tiny bones
and mumbles, mysterious, while you say nothing,
barely thirteen, blank as the day.

You were to keep an eye on her
breathing, her little bones heaving,
and your eyes scan figurines, mementos
on the windowsill — Little Bo Peep has lost
her head — and green fields through the window:
hay barns, small farms, a chicken battery shed.

Bwwaaakk! Buck-back-bock-buckaaaakk!
Rows upon rows of chickens.
There was a funnel hung from a gibbet
that swung like a big steel conical conundrum
above their dun feathers — the color
of your grandmother’s tights scrumpled on the floor.

Even a year before, she would have swooned
for shame at the sight of those tights half-trailed
under her bed, their crinkled wee ankles
jouking out, as if they had crawled under
and tipped their wrinkled cargo into the void — 
your grandmother in bed, waiting for the spoon.

Her weak breath does not reach heaven
but hazes among the chipped figurines,
the dull color television’s black screen,
fading flesh-colored flowers on the wall-
paper, dun as the wings of those dirt-crusted
rows upon rows of throbbing chickens.

When you dropped one into the funnel
its head pushed through that blood-rimmed O
to stare chicken-eyed at the other side,
blackened numbles and giblets
upon which it would soon stream
like warm port, its feet still in a fidget.

What gets passed on, through generations?
Your grandmother tries to speak. Her bony
fingers clutch your hand — and you bend
your head down. But you’d get more sense
from the sea in a seashell as your father
enters the room beaming, Well! Well?

--Alan Gillis

After my son was born

I’d a snip cut in his tongue.
Blood scissored down his chin.
At every squall I’d been unsnibbing
myself and starving him. He knocked
me so my nose coughed blood,
punched a finger through my cornea.
Blood blubbed on my nipple
where his gums met. On the radio
somebody was saying something about Syria.
My son jerked knots of hair from my head,
tears dashed off his fontanelle. He’d fixed
my hips so my clothes didn’t fit. I blundered
him once against the doorjamb:
blood. I’d bit his father
when we were younger, drinking harder,
made blood come then. Twice I tried to leave
him screaming, twenty minutes at a time,
but couldn’t keep schtum.
One breakfast I broke the mug that insisted
“Don’t Mess With Texas.”
Smashed it. And all the time
I smiled so much my teeth dried.
He made everything heavy.
Like they say the bomb did for a while,
so that Americans swam
through their homes, eyes peeled,
picking up everyday things and dropping them
as though they were violated with light and pain.
As though blood hadn’t always been there, waiting.

--Ailbhe Darcy

First

There is a holiness to exhaustion
is what I keep telling myself,
filling out the form so my TA gets paid
then making copies of it on the hot
and heaving machine, writing
Strong start! on a pretty bad poem.
And then the children: the baby’s
mouth opening, going for the breast,
the girl’s hair to wash tonight
and then comb so painstakingly
in the tub while conditioner drips
in slick globs onto her shoulders,
while her discipline chart flaps in the air
conditioner at school, taped
to a filing cabinet, longing for stickers.
My heart is so giant this evening,
like one of those moons so full
and beautiful and terrifying
if you see it when you’re getting out
of the car you have to go inside the house
and make someone else come out
and see it for themselves. I want every-
thing, I admit. I want yes of course
and I want it all the time. I want
a clean heart. I want the children
to sleep and the drought
to end. I want the rain to come
down—It’s supposed to monsoon
is what Naomi said, driving away
this morning, and she was right,
as usual. It’s monsooning. Still,
I want more. Even as the streets
are washed clean and then begin
to flood. Even though the man
came again today to check the rat traps
and said he bet we’d catch the rat
within 24 hours. We still haven’t caught
the rat, so I’m working at the table
with my legs folded up beneath me.
I want to know what is holy—
I do. But first I want the rat to die.
I am thirsty for that death
and will drink deeply of that victory,
the thwack of the trap’s hard plastic jaw,
I will rush to see the evidence no matter
how gruesome, leaning my body over
the washing machine to see the thing
crushed there, much smaller
than I’d imagined it’d be,
the strawberry large in its mouth.

--Carrie Fountain

Children Walk on Chairs to Cross a Flooded Schoolyard

Taytay, Rizal Province, Philippines
(based on the photo by Noel Celis)

Hardly anything holds the children up, each poised
mid-air, barely the ball of one small foot
kissing the chair’s wood, so
they don’t just step across, but pause
above the water. I look at that cotton mangle
of a sky, post-typhoon, and presume
it’s holding something back. In this country,
it’s the season of greedy gods
and the several hundred cathedrals
worth of water they spill onto little tropic villages
like this one, where a girl is likely to know
the name of the man who built
every chair in her school by hand,
six of which are now arranged
into a makeshift bridge so that she and her mates
can cross their flooded schoolyard.
Boys in royal blue shorts and red rain boots,
the girls brown and bare-toed
in starch white shirts and pleated skirts.
They hover like bells that can choose
to withhold their one clear, true
bronze note, until all this nonsense
of wind and drizzle dies down.
One boy even reaches forward
into the dark sudden pool below
toward someone we can’t see, and
at the same time, without looking, seems
to offer the tips of his fingers back to the smaller girl 
behind him. I want the children
ferried quickly across so they can get back
to slapping one another on the neck
and cheating each other at checkers.
I’ve said time and time again I don’t believe
in mystery, and then I’m reminded what it’s like
to be in America, to kneel beside
a six-year-old, to slide my left hand
beneath his back and my right under his knees, 
and then carry him up a long flight of stairs
to his bed. I can feel the fine bones,
the little ridges of the spine
with my palm, the tiny smooth stone
of the elbow. I remember I’ve lifted
a sleeping body so slight I thought
the whole catastrophic world could fall away.
I forget how disaster works, how it can turn
a child back into glistening butterfish
or finches. And then they’ll just do
what they do, which is teach the rest of us
how to move with such natural gravity.
Look at these two girls, center frame,
who hold out their arms
as if they’re finally remembering
they were made for other altitudes.
I love them for the peculiar joy
of returning to earth. Not an ounce
of impatience. This simple thrill
of touching ground. 

--Patrick Rosal