Saturday, December 31, 2011

winter: my secret - christina rossetti

Winter: My Secret
by Christina Rossetti

I tell my secret? No indeed, not I:
Perhaps some day, who knows?
But not today; it froze, and blows and snows,
And you're too curious: fie!
You want to hear it? well:
Only, my secret's mine, and I won't tell.

Or, after all, perhaps there's none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun.
Today's a nipping day, a biting day;
In which one wants a shawl,
A veil, a cloak, and other wraps:
I cannot ope to everyone who taps,
And let the draughts come whistling thro' my hall;
Come bounding and surrounding me,
Come buffeting, astounding me,
Nipping and clipping thro' my wraps and all.
I wear my mask for warmth: who ever shows
His nose to Russian snows
To be pecked at by every wind that blows?
You would not peck? I thank you for good will,
Believe, but leave the truth untested still.

Spring's an expansive time: yet I don't trust
March with its peck of dust,
Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers,
Nor even May, whose flowers
One frost may wither thro' the sunless hours.

Perhaps some languid summer day,
When drowsy birds sing less and less,
And golden fruit is ripening to excess,
If there's not too much sun nor too much cloud,
And the warm wind is neither still nor loud,
Perhaps my secret I may say,
Or you may guess.

queen victoria and me - leonard cohen

Queen Victoria And Me
by Leonard Cohen

Queen Victoria
my father and all his tobacco loved you
I love you too in all your forms
the slim unlovely virgin anyone would lay
the white figure floating among German beards
the mean governess of the huge pink maps
the solitary mourner of a prince
Queen Victoria
I am cold and rainy
I am dirty as a glass roof in a train station
I feel like an empty cast-iron exhibition
I want ornaments on everything
because my love she gone with other boys
Queen Victoria
do you have a punishment under the white lace
will you be short with her
and make her read little Bibles
will you spank her with a mechanical corset
I want her pure as power
I want her skin slightly musty with petticoats
will you wash the easy bidets out of her head
Queen Victoria
I'm not much nourished by modern love
Will you come into my life
with your sorrow and your black carriages
and your perfect memory
Queen Victoria
The 20th century belongs to you and me
Let us be two severe giants
(not less lonely for our partnership)
who discolour test tubes in the halls of science
who turn up unwelcome at every World's Fair
heavy with proverb and correction
confusing the star-dazed tourists
with our incomparable sense of loss

a waking - octavio paz

A Waking
by Octavio Paz (tr. Eliot Weinberger)

I was walled inside a dream.
Its walls had no consistency,
no weight: its emptiness was its weight.
The walls were hours and the hours
sorrow, hoarded forever.
The time of those hours was not time.

I leapt through a breach: in this world
it was four o'clock. The room was my room
and my ghost was in each thing.
I wasn't there. I looked out the window:
not a soul under the electric light.
Vigilant streetlamps, dirty snow,
houses and cars asleep, the insomnia
of a lamp, the oak that talks to itself,
the wind and its knives, the illegible
writing of the constellations.

The things were buried deep in themselves
and my eyes of flesh saw them
weary of being, realities
stripped of their names. My two eyes
were souls grieving for the world.
On the empty street the presence
passed without passing, vanishing
into its forms, fixed in its changes,
and turned now into houses, oaks, snow, time.
Life and death flowed on, blurred together.

Uninhabited sight, the presence
looked at me with nobody's eyes:
a bundle of reflections over the cliffs.
I looked inside: the room was my room
and I wasn't there. Being lacks nothing
-- always full of itself, always the same --
even though we are not there...Outside,
the clarities, still uncertain:
dawn in the jumble of the rooftops.
The constellations were being erased.

the flowers that i left in the ground - leonard cohen

The Flowers That I Left In The Ground
by Leonard Cohen

The flowers that I left in the ground,
that I did not gather for you,
today I bring them all back,
to let them grow forever,
not in poems or marble,
but where they fell and rotted.

And the ships in their great stalls,
huge and transitory as heroes,
ships I could not captain,
today I bring them back
to let them sail forever,
not in model or ballad,
but where they were wrecked and scuttled.

And the child on whose shoulders I stand,
whose longing I purged
with public, kingly discipline,
today I bring him back
to languish forever,
not in confession or biography,
but where he flourished,
growing sly and hairy.

It is not malice that draws me away,
draws me to renunciation, betrayal:
it is weariness, I go for weariness of thee.
Gold, ivory, flesh, love, G-d, blood, moon --
I have become the expert of the catalogue.

My body once so familiar with glory,
my body has become a museum:
this part remembered because of someone's mouth,
this because of a hand,
this of wetness, this of heat.

Who owns anything he has not made?
With your beauty I am as uninvolved
as with horses' manes and waterfalls.
This is my last catalogue.
I breathe the breathless
I love you, I love you --
and let you move forever.

possibilities - henry wadsworth longfellow

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Where are the Poets, unto whom belong
The Olympian heights; whose singing shafts were sent
Straight to the mark, and not from bows half bent,
But with the utmost tension of the thong?
Where are the stately argosies of song,
Whose rushing keels made music as they went
Sailing in search of some new continent,
With all sail set, and steady winds and strong?
Perhaps there lives some dreamy boy, un­taught
In schools, some graduate of the field or street,
Who shall become a master of the art,
An admiral sailing the high seas of thought,
Fearless and first, and steering with his fleet
For lands not yet laid down in any chart.

"the brain within its groove..." - emily dickinson

"The brain within its groove.." 
by Emily Dickinson

The brain within its groove
Runs evenly and true;
But let a splinter swerve,
'T were easier for you
To put the water back
When floods have slit the hills,
And scooped a turnpike for themselves,
And blotted out the mills!

the solitary reaper - william wordsworth

The Solitary Reaper
by William Wordsworth

Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.

No Nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:
A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.

Will no one tell me what she sings?--
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?

Whate'er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o'er the sickle bending;--
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

this is a photograph of me - margaret atwood

This Is a Photograph of Me
by Margaret Atwood

It was taken some time ago.
At first it seems to be
a smeared
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;

then, as you scan
it, you see in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.

In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.

(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.

I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.

It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion

but if you look long enough,
you will be able to see me.)

Friday, December 30, 2011

wrestling with the angel - jacques prévert

Wrestling With The Angel
by Jacques Prévert (tr. Benedikt)

Don't bother
The fight's fixed
The match is rigged
and when he or she or it appears aloft above the ring
surrounded by spotlights
they'll all start singing Te Deum
and even before you have the chance to get up from your little
chair in the corner
their gong will sound
they'll throw their sacred sponge in your eyes
And you won't even get in a quick jab to the feathers
before they all grab you
and he or she or it will hit you below the belt
and you'll fall flat
arms stuck out stiff in an idiotic cross
outstretched in the sawdust
and you may never again be able to make love.

Le Combat avec l'Ange
par Jacques Prévert

N’y va pas
tout est combiné d’avance
le match est truqué
et quand il apparaîtra sur le ring
environné d’éclairs de magnésium
ils entonneront à tue-tête le Te Deum
et avant même que tu te sois levé de ta chaise
ils te sonneront les cloches à toute volée
ils te jetteront à la figure l’éponge sacrée
et tu n’auras pas le temps de lui voler dans les plumes
ils se jetteront sur toi
et il te frappera au-dessous de la ceinture
et tu t’écrouleras
les bras stupidement en croix
dans la sciure
et jamais plus tu ne pourras faire l’amour.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

a forge, and a scythe - raymond carver

A Forge, and a Scythe
by Raymond Carver

One minute I had the windows open
and the sun was out. Warm breezes
blew through the room.
(I remarked on this in a letter.)
Then, while I watched, it grew dark.
The water began whitecapping.
All the sport-fishing boats turned
and headed in, a little fleet.
Those wind-chimes on the porch
blew down. The tops of our trees shook.
The stove pipe squeaked and rattled
around in its moorings.
I said, "A forge, and a scythe."
I talk to myself like this.
Saying the names of things --
capstan, hawser, loam, leaf, furnace.
Your face, your mouth, your shoulder
inconceivable to me now!
Where did they go? It's like
I dreamed them.  The stones we brought
home from the beach lie face up
on the windowsill, cooling.
Come home. Do you hear?
My lungs are thick with the smoke
of your absence.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

feeling fucked up - etheridge knight

Feeling Fucked Up
by Etheridge Knight

Lord she's gone done left me done packed/up and split
and I with no way to make her
come back and everywhere the world is bare
bright bone white     crystal sand glistens
dope death dead dying and jiving drove
her away made her take her laughter and her smiles
and her softness and her midnight sighs--

Fuck Coltrane and music and clouds drifting in the sky
fuck the sea and trees and the sky and birds
and alligators and all the animals that roam the earth
fuck marx and mao fuck fidel and nkrumah and
democracy and communism fuck smack and pot
and red ripe tomatoes fuck joseph fuck mary fuck
god jesus and all the disciples fuck fanon nixon
and malcolm fuck the revolution fuck freedom fuck
the whole muthafucking thing
all i want now is my woman back
so my soul can sing

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

in the lobby of the hotel del mayo - raymond carver

In The Lobby of the Hotel del Mayo
by Raymond Carver

The girl in the lobby reading a leather-bound book.
The man in the lobby using a broom.
The boy in the lobby watering plants.
The desk clerk looking at his nails.
The woman in the lobby writing a letter.
The old man in the lobby sleeping in his chair.
The fan in the lobby revolving slowly overhead.
Another hot Sunday afternoon.

Suddenly, the girl lays her finger between the pages of
   her book.
The man leans on his broom and looks.
The boy stops in his tracks.
The desk clerk raises his eyes and stares.
The woman quits writing.
The old man stirs and wakes up.
What is it?

Someone is running up from the harbor.
Someone who has the sun behind him.
Someone who is barechested.
Waving his arms.

It's clear something terrible has happened.
The man is running straight for the hotel.
His lips are working themselves into a scream.
Everyone in the lobby will recall their terror.
Everyone will remember this moment for the rest of their lives.

unanswered letter - tess gallagher

Unanswered Letter
by Tess Gallagher

Your silence is leaning toward judgment.
Yesterday I bragged, writing to calm
my paranoid friend, that I never assume
the worst when my pals don’t write. Now
assuming the worst, I think what I must have
done, or not done. Surely some recognition
will brand the door of my house, or
rich attention flutter down.

How natural, in silence, to credit delay
with intention, like the word oar
insisting on water. The need also to
advise the self around exaggeration,
i.e., “nobody loves me,” because nothing is
coming back, and, next to nothing, not
to act like a transistor radio left on into
the night, voices singing like an ear
baffled by the rain, or someone refused
because they think so.

Those others you loved elsewhere, you miss
what they haven’t said. They belong
to some permission to go on as more
than yourself, a clarity that adds you back
to all you cast off, as when
you want to be the good light of a lamp
scanning the firmament, or rain- its pleasure
with an open boat.

So what is unanswered keeps you coming back
to yourself, telling you what you wanted
only when it didn’t come, having now
to make up this difference.
Even moments you think empty, the world
doesn’t stop speaking – the windshield
blurred suddenly by a sighting of gravestones,
before you are driven
through the underpass.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

love at first sight - wislawa szymborska

Love at First Sight
by Wislawa Szymborska (tr. Baranczak & Cavanagh)

They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways –
perhaps they’ve passed each other by a million times?

I want to ask them
if they don’t remember –
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number” caught in the receiver? –
but I know the answer.
No, they don’t remember.

They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thickets?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night perhaps some dream
grown hazy by morning.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

the correspondence school instructor says goodbye to his poetry students - galway kinnell

The Correspondence School Instructor
Says Goodbye to His Poetry Students
by Galwlay Kinnell

Goodbye, lady in Bangor, who sent me
snapshots of yourself, after definitely hinting
you were beautiful; goodbye,
Miami Beach urologist, who enclosed plain
brown envelopes for the return of your very
"Clinical Sonnets", goodbye, manufacturer
of brassieres on the Coast, whose eclogues
give the fullest treatment in literature yet
to the sagging-breast motif; goodbye, you in San Quentin,
who wrote, "Being German my hero is Hitler,"
instead of "Sincerely yours," at the end of long,
neat-scripted letters demolishing
the pre-Raphaelites:

I swear to you, it was just my way
of cheering myself up, as I licked
the stamped, self-addressed envelopes,
the game I had
of trying to guess which one of you, this time,
had poisoned his glue.  I did care.
I did read each poem entire.
I did say what I thought was the truth
in the mildest words I knew.  And now,
in this poem, or chopped prose, not any better,
I realize, than those troubled lines
I kept sending back to you,
I have to say I am relieved it is over:
at the end I could only feel pity
for that urge toward more life
your poems kept smothering in words, the smell
of which, days later, would tingle
in your nostrils as new, God-given impulses
to write.

you who are, for me, the postmarks again
of shattered towns--Xenia, Burnt Cabins, Hornell--
their loneliness
given away in poems, only their solitude kept.

Friday, December 16, 2011

solitude - rainer maria rilke

by Rainer Maria Rilke (tr. Edward Snow)

Solitude is like a rain.
It rises from the sea toward evening;
from plains, which are distant and remote,
it goes to the sky, which always has it.
And only then it falls from the sky on the city.

It rains down in the in-between hours,
when all the crooked streets turn toward morning,
and when the bodies, which found nothing,
leave each other feeling sad and disappointed;
and when the people, who hate each other,
have to sleep together in one bed:

then solitude flows with the rivers . . .

Thursday, December 15, 2011

it is the season - josephine jacobsen

It Is The Season
by Josephine Jacobsen

when we learn
or do not learn
to say goodbye.

The crone leaves that as green
virgins opened themselves
to sun, creak at our feet

and all farewells return
to crowd the air:
say, Chinese lovers by a bridge,

with crows, and a waterfall;
He will cross
the bridge, the crows fly;

children who told each other
secrets, and will not speak
next summer;

Some speech of parting
mentions God, as in
à Dieu, Adios,

commending what cannot
be kept
to permanence.

There is nothing of north
unknown, as the dark
comes earlier.  The birds

take their lives in their wings
for the cruel trip;
all farewells are rehearsals.

Darling, the sun rose
later today.
Summer, summer

is what we had.
Say nothing yet.

Monday, December 12, 2011

between going and staying - octavio paz

Between Going And Staying
by Octavio Paz

Between going and staying the day wavers,
in love with its own transparency.

The circular afternoon is now a bay
where the world in stillness rocks.

All is visible and all elusive,
all is near and can’t be touched.

Paper, book, pencil, glass,
rest in the shade of their names.

Time throbbing in my temples repeats
the same unchanging syllable of blood.

The light turns the indifferent wall
into a ghostly theater of reflections.

I find myself in the middle of an eye,
watching myself in its blank stare.

The moment scatters. Motionless,
I stay and go: I am a pause.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

the burning of the books - bertolt brecht

The Burning of The Books
by Bertolt Brecht

When the Regime commanded that books with harmful knowledge
Should be publicly burned on all sides
Oxen were forced to drag cart loads of books
To the bonfires, a banished
Writer, one of the best, scanning the list of the
Burned, was shocked to find that his
Books had been passed over. He rushed to his desk
On wings of wrath, and wrote a letter to those in power.
Burn me! he wrote with flying pen, burn me. Haven’t my books
Always reported the truth? And here you are
Treating me like a liar! I command you:
Burn me!

Monday, December 5, 2011

the christmas star - gabriela mistral

The Christmas Star
by Gabriela Mistral (tr. Maria Giachetti)

A little girl
comes running,
she caught and carries a star.
She goes flying, making the plants
and animals she passes
bend with fire.

Her hands already sizzle,
she tires, wavers, stumbles,
and falls headlong,
but she gets right up with it again.

Her hands don't burn away,
nor does the star break apart,
although her face, arms,
chest and hair are on fire.

She burns down to her waist.
People shout at her
and she won't let it go;
her hands are parboiled,
but she won't release the star.

Oh how she sows its seeds
as it hums and flies.
They try to take it away--
but how can she live
without her star?

It didn't simply fall--it didn't.
It remained without her,
and now she runs without a body,
changed transformed into ashes.

The road catches fire
and our braids burn,
and now we all receive her
because the entire Earth is burning.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

doria (dorian girl) - ezra pound

Doria (Dorian Girl)
by Ezra Pound

Be in me as the eternal moods
             of the bleak wind, and not
As transient things are--
       gaiety of flowers.
Have me in the strong loneliness
       of sunless cliffs
And of grey waters.
       Let the gods speak softly of us
In days hereafter,
       The shadowy flowers of Orcus
Remember thee.

it must have been the spirits - c.p. cavafy

It Must Have Been The Spirits 
by C.P. Cavafy (tr. Daniel Mendelsohn)

It must have been the spirits that I drank last night,
it must have been that I was drowsing, I'd been tired all day long.

The black wooden column vanished before me,
with the ancient head; and the dining-room door,
and the armchair, the red one; and the little settee.
In their place came a street in Marseille.
And freed now, unabashed, my soul
appeared there once again and moved about,
along with the form of a sensitive, pleasure-bent youth--
the dissolute youth:  that too must be said.

It must have been the spirits that I drank last night,
it mast have been that I was drowsing, I'd been tired all day long.

My soul was released; the poor thing, it's
always constrained by the weight of the years.

My soul was released and it showed me
sympathique street in Marseille,
with the form of the happy, dissolute youth
who never felt ashamed, not he, certainly.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

a fairly sad tale - dorothy parker

A Fairly Sad Tale
by Dorothy Parker

I think that I shall never know
Why I am thus, and I am so.
Around me, other girls inspire
In men the rush and roar of fire,
The sweet transparency of glass,
The tenderness of April grass,
The durability of granite;
But me- I don’t know how to plan it.
The lads I’ve met in Cupid’s deadlock
Were- shall we say?- born out of wedlock.
They broke my heart, they stilled my song,
And said they had to run along,
Explaining, so to sop my tears,
First came their parents or careers.
But ever does experience
Deny me wisdom, calm, and sense!
Though she’s a fool who seeks to capture
The twenty-first fine, careless rapture,
I must go on, till ends my rope,
Who from my birth was cursed with hope.
A heart in half is chaste, archaic;
But mine resembles a mosaic-
The thing’s become ridiculous!
Why am I so? Why am I thus?

Friday, December 2, 2011

to tu fu from shantung - li po

To Tu Fu From Shantung
by Li Po

You ask how I spend my time–
I nestle against a treetrunk
and listen to autumn winds
in the pines all night and day.

Shantung wine can’t get me drunk.
The local poets bore me.
My thoughts remain with you,
like the Wen River, endlessly flowing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

balance - adam zagajewski

by Adam Zagajewski (translated by Clare Cavanagh)

I watched the arctic landscape from above
and thought of nothing, lovely nothing.
I observed white canopies of clouds, vast
expanses where no wolf tracks could be found.

I thought about you and about the emptiness
that can promise one thing only: plenitude—
and that a certain sort of snowy wasteland
bursts from a surfeit of happiness.

As we drew closer to our landing,
the vulnerable earth emerged among the clouds,
comic gardens forgotten by their owners,
pale grass plagued by winter and the wind.

I put my book down and for an instant felt
a perfect balance between waking and dreams.
But when the plane touched concrete, then
assiduously circled the airport's labyrinth,

I once again knew nothing. The darkness
of daily wanderings resumed, the day’s sweet darkness,
the darkness of the voice that counts and measures,
remembers and forgets.

banking - cara benson

by Cara Benson

Sometimes I pick up the phone and there is a person
the person speaks.
Sometimes I have spoken first and I say things
like hello is someone there I am here.
I worry sometimes.  Sometimes I worry so much
I pick up the phone to call someone to tell them
about my worries.  Sometimes they try to talk me out of worrying
but sometimes this doesn't work so I hang up.
When I hang up after efforts to calm me fail I sometimes
call the person back to apologize and worry my apology will not be accepted.
When my apology is accepted I feel better
till I remember the initial worry but only sometimes
my apology is accepted because I have done this before.  Maybe more than once.
But when I speak and worry and do not apologize
other people sometimes worry about me.
I speak a lot and apologize less.
On the phone I sound confident sometimes.
I call out of state and leave messages.  I do
not leave a return number because I do
not want to speak with the person.
Sometimes the person can get my number anyway because of technology
but they usually do not call back because they are not worried about it.
These people I don't apologize to.  Not ever.

my strip club - denise duhamel

My Strip Club
by Denise Duhamel

In my strip club
the girls crawl on stage
wearing overalls
and turtlenecks
then slowly pull on
gloves, ski masks
and hiking boots.
As the music slows,
they lick the pole
and for a tantalizing second
their tongues stick
because it's so cold.
They zip up parkas
and tie tight bows
under their hoods.
A big spender
can take one of my girls
into a back room
where he can clamp
her snowshoes.

unexpected dangers - louise erdrich

Unexpected Dangers
by Louise Erdrich

I'm much the worse for wear, it's double true.
Too many incidents
a man might misconstrue--
my conduct, for a lack of innocence.

I seem to get them crazed or lacking sense
in the first place.
Ancient, solid gents
I sit by on the bus because they're safe,

get me going, coming, with their canes,
or what is worse
the spreading stains
across the seat.  I recognize at once

just what they're up to, rustling in their coats.
There was a priest,
the calmer sort,
his cassock flowing  down from neck to feet.

We got to talking and I brushed his knee
by accident,
and dutifully,
he took my hand and put it back

not quite where it belonged; his judgement
was not that exact.
I underwent
a kind of odd conversion from his act.

They do call minds like mine one-track.
One track is all you need
to understand
their loneliness, then bite the hand that feeds

upon you, in a terrible blind grief.