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Best Famous Galway Kinnell Poems

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Written by Galway Kinnell | |

from Flying Home

3 
As this plane dragged 
its track of used ozone half the world long 
thrusts some four hundred of us 
toward places where actual known people 
live and may wait, 
we diminish down in our seats, 
disappeared into novels of lives clearer than ours, 
and yet we do not forget for a moment 
the life down there, the doorway each will soon enter: 
where I will meet her again 
and know her again, 
dark radiance with, and then mostly without, the stars.
Very likely she has always understood what I have slowly learned, and which only now, after being away, almost as far away as one can get on this globe, almost as far as thoughts can carry - yet still in her presence, still surrounded not so much by reminders of her as by things she had already reminded me of, shadows of her cast forward and waiting - can I try to express: that love is hard, that while many good things are easy, true love is not, because love is first of all a power, its own power, which continually must make its way forward, from night into day, from transcending union always forward into difficult day.
And as the plane descends, it comes to me in the space where tears stream down across the stars, tears fallen on the actual earth where their shining is what we call spirit, that once the lover recognizes the other, knows for the first time what is most to be valued in another, from then on, love is very much like courage, perhaps it is courage, and even perhaps only courage.
Squashed out of old selves, smearing the darkness of expectation across experience, all of us little thinkers it brings home having similar thoughts of landing to the imponderable world, the transoceanic airliner, resting its huge weight down, comes in almost lightly, to where with sudden, tiny, white puffs and long, black, rubberish smears all its tires know the home ground.


Written by Galway Kinnell | |

Blackberry Eating

I love to go out in late September 
among the fat, overripe, icy black blackberries 
to eat blackberries for breakfast, 
the stalks are very prickly, a penalty 
they earn for knowing the black art 
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them 
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries 
fall almost unbidden to my tongue, 
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words 
like strengths or squinched, 
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps 
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well 
in the silent, startled, icy, black language 
of blackberry-eating in late September.


Written by Galway Kinnell | |

The Bear

1
In late winter 
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam
coming up from
some fault in the old snow 
and bend close and see it is lung-colored 
and put down my nose
and know
the chilly, enduring odor of bear.
2 I take a wolf's rib and whittle it sharp at both ends and coil it up and freeze it in blubber and place it out on the fairway of the bears.
And when it has vanished I move out on the bear tracks, roaming in circles until I come to the first, tentative, dark splash on the earth.
And I set out running, following the splashes of blood wandering over the world.
At the cut, gashed resting places I stop and rest, at the crawl-marks where he lay out on his belly to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice I lie out dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists.
3 On the third day I begin to starve, at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would at a turd sopped in blood, and hesitate, and pick it up, and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down, and rise and go on running.
4 On the seventh day, living by now on bear blood alone, I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled, steamy hulk, the heavy fur riffling in the wind.
I come up to him and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes, the dismayed face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils flared, catching perhaps the first taint of me as he died.
I hack a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink, and tear him down his whole length and open him and climb in and close him up after me, against the wind, and sleep.
5 And dream of lumbering flatfooted over the tundra, stabbed twice from within, splattering a trail behind me, splattering it out no matter which way I lurch, no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence, which dance of solitude I attempt, which gravity-clutched leap, which trudge, which groan.
6 Until one day I totter and fall -- fall on this stomach that has tried so hard to keep up, to digest the blood as it leaked in, to break up and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze blows over me, blows off the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood and rotted stomach and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear, blows across my sore, lolled tongue a song or screech, until I think I must rise up and dance.
And I lie still.
7 I awaken I think.
Marshlights reappear, geese come trailing again up the flyway.
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear lies, licking lumps of smeared fur and drizzly eyes into shapes with her tongue.
And one hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me, the next groaned out, the next, the next, the rest of my days I spend wandering: wondering what, anyway, was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived? from Body Rags, Galway Kinnell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967).


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Written by Galway Kinnell | |

On Frozen Fields

1 
We walk across the snow, 
The stars can be faint, 
The moon can be eating itself out, 
There can be meteors flaring to death on earth, 
The Northern Lights can be blooming and seething 
And tearing themselves apart all night, 
We walk arm in arm, and we are happy.
2 You in whose ultimate madness we live, You flinging yourself out into the emptiness, You - like us - great an instant, O only universe we know, forgive us.


Written by Galway Kinnell | |

Saint Francis And The Sow

The bud 
stands for all things, 
even for those things that don't flower, 
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing; 
though sometimes it is necessary 
to reteach a thing its loveliness, 
to put a hand on its brow 
of the flower 
and retell it in words and in touch 
it is lovely 
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing; 
as Saint Francis 
put his hand on the creased forehead 
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch 
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow 
began remembering all down her thick length, 
from the earthen snout all the way 
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail, 
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine 
down through the great broken heart 
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering 
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath 
them: 
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.


Written by Galway Kinnell | |

Fergus Falling

He climbed to the top
of one of those million white pines
set out across the emptying pastures
of the fifties - some program to enrich the rich
and rebuke the forefathers
who cleared it all at once with ox and axe - 
climbed to the top, probably to get out
of the shadow
not of those forefathers but of this father
and saw for the first time
down in its valley, Bruce Pond, giving off
its little steam in the afternoon,

pond where Clarence Akley came on Sunday mornings to cut
down
the cedars around the shore, I'd sometimes hear the slow
spondees
of his work, he's gone,
where Milton Norway came up behind me while I was 
fishing and
stood awhile before I knew he was there, he's the one who
put the
cedar shingles on the house, some have curled or split, a 
few have
blown off, he's gone,
where Gus Newland logged in the cold snap of '58, the only
man will-
ing to go into those woods that never got warmer than ten
below,
he's gone,
pond where two wards of the state wandered on Halloween, 
the Na-
tional Guard searched for them in November, in vain, the 
next fall a 
hunter found their skeletons huddled together, in vain, 
they're 
gone,
pond where an old fisherman in a rowboat sits, drowning
hooked
worms, when he goes he's replaced and is never gone,

and when Fergus
saw the pond for the first time
in the clear evening, saw its oldness down there
in its old place in the valley, he became heavier suddenly
in his bones
the way fledglings do just before they fly,
and the soft pine cracked .
.
.
I would not have heard his cry if my electric saw had been working, its carbide teeth speeding through the bland spruce of our time, or burning black arcs into some scavenged hemlock plank, like dark circles under eyes when the brain thinks too close to the skin, but I was sawing by hand and I heard that cry as though he were attacked; we ran out, when we bent over him he said, "Galway, In¨¦s, I saw a pond!" His face went gray, his eyes fluttered close a frightening moment .
.
.
Yes - a pond that lets off its mist on clear afternoons of August, in that valley to which many have come, for their reasons, from which many have gone, a few for their reasons, most not, where even now and old fisherman only the pinetops can see sits in the dry gray wood of his rowboat, waiting for pickerel.


Written by Galway Kinnell | |

The Perch

There is a fork in a branch
of an ancient, enormous maple,
one of a grove of such trees,
where I climb sometimes and sit and look out
over miles of valleys and low hills.
Today on skis I took a friend to show her the trees.
We set out down the road, turned in at the lane which a few weeks ago, when the trees were almost empty and the November snows had not yet come, lay thickly covered in bright red and yellow leaves, crossed the swamp, passed the cellar hole holding the remains of the 1850s farmhouse that had slid down into it by stages in the thirties and forties, followed the overgrown logging road and came to the trees.
I climbed up to the perch, and this time looked not into the distance but at the tree itself, its trunk contorted by the terrible struggle of that time when it had its hard time.
After the trauma it grows less solid.
It may be some such time now comes upon me.
It would have to do with the unaccomplished, and with the attempted marriage of solitude and happiness.
Then a rifle sounded, several times, quite loud, from across the valley, percussions of the custom of male mastery over the earth ¡ª the most graceful, most alert of the animals being chosen to die.
I looked to see if my friend had heard, but she was stepping about on her skis, studying the trees, smiling to herself, her lips still filled, for all we had drained them, with hundreds and thousands of kisses.
Just then she looked up ¡ª the way, from low to high, the god blesses ¡ª and the blue of her eyes shone out of the black and white of bark and snow, as lovers who are walking on a freezing day touch icy cheek to icy cheek, kiss, then shudder to discover the heat waiting inside their mouths.


Written by W S Merwin | |

We continue

For Galway Kinnell


The rust a little pile of western color lies
At the end of its travels 
Our instrument no longer.
Those who believe In death have their worship cut out for them.
As for myself we Continue An old Scar of light our trumpet Pilgrims with thorns To the eye of the cold Under flags made by the blind In one fist Their letter that vanishes If the hand opens: Charity come home Begin.


Written by Galway Kinnell | |

Two Seasons

1 
The stars were wild that summer evening 
As on the low lake shore stood you and I 
And every time I caught your flashing eye 
Or heard your voice discourse on anything 
It seemed a star went burning down the sky.
I looked into your heart that dying summer And found your silent woman's heart grown wild Whereupon you turned to me and smiled Saying you felt afraid but that you were Weary of being mute and undefiled 2 I spoke to you that last winter morning Watching the wind smoke snow across the ice Told of how the beauty of your spirit, flesh, And smile had made day break at night and spring Burst beauty in the wasting winter's place.
You did not answer when I spoke, but stood As if that wistful part of you, your sorrow, Were blown about in fitful winds below; Your eyes replied your worn heart wished it could Again be white and silent as the snow.


Written by Galway Kinnell | |

After Making Love We Hear Footsteps

 For I can snore like a bullhorn 
or play loud music 
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman 
and Fergus will only sink deeper 
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash, 
but let there be that heavy breathing 
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house 
and he will wrench himself awake 
and make for it on the run - as now, we lie together, 
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies, 
familiar touch of the long-married, 
and he appears - in his baseball pajamas, it happens, 
the neck opening so small 
he has to screw them on, which one day may make him wonder 
about the mental capacity of baseball players - 
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep, 
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.
In the half darkness we look at each other and smile and touch arms across his little, startling muscled body - this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making, sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake, this blessing love gives again into our arms.


Written by Galway Kinnell | |

Poem Of Night

 1

I move my hand over 
slopes, falls, lumps of sight,
Lashes barely able to be touched,
Lips that give way so easily
it's a shock to feel underneath them

The bones smile.
Muffled a little, barely cloaked, Zygoma, maxillary, turbinate.
2 I put my hand On the side of your face, You lean your head a little Into my hand--and so, I know you're a dormouse Taken up in winter sleep, A lonely, stunned weight.
3 A cheekbone, A curved piece of brow, A pale eyelid Float in the dark, And now I make out An eye, dark, Wormed with far-off, unaccountable lights.
4 Hardly touching, I hold What I can only think of As some deepest of memories in my arms, Not mine, but as if the life in me Were slowly remembering what it is.
You lie here now in your physicalness, This beautiful degree of reality.
5 And now the day, raft that breaks up, comes on.
I think of a few bones Floating on a river at night, The starlight blowing in a place on the water, The river leaning like a wave towards the emptiness.


Written by Galway Kinnell | |

Telephoning In Mexican Sunlight

 Talking with my beloved in New York
I stood at the outdoor public telephone
in Mexican sunlight, in my purple shirt.
Someone had called it a man/woman shirt.
The phrase irked me.
But then I remembered that Rainer Maria Rilke, who until he was seven wore dresses and had long yellow hair, wrote that the girl he almost was "made her bed in his ear" and "slept him the world.
" I thought, OK this shirt will clothe the other in me.
As we fell into long-distance love talk a squeaky chittering started up all around, and every few seconds came a sudden loud buzzing.
I half expected to find the insulation on the telephone line laid open under the pressure of our talk leaking low-frequency noises.
But a few yards away a dozen hummingbirds, gorgets going drab or blazing according as the sun struck them, stood on their tail rudders in a circle around my head, transfixed by the flower-likeness of the shirt.
And perhaps also by a flush rising into my face, for a word -- one with a thick sound, as if a porous vowel had sat soaking up saliva while waiting to get spoken, possibly the name of some flower that hummingbirds love, perhaps "honeysuckle" or "hollyhock" or "phlox" -- just then shocked me with its suddenness, and this time apparently did burst the insulation, letting the word sound in the open where all could hear, for these tiny, irascible, nectar-addicted puritans jumped back all at once, as if the air gasped.


Written by Galway Kinnell | |

Wait

 Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours.
Haven't they carried you everywhere, up to now? Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again, their memories are what give them the need for other hands.
And the desolation of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness carved out of such tiny beings as we are asks to be filled; the need for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Wait.
Don't go too early.
You're tired.
But everyone's tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair, Music of pain, music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time, most of all to hear, the flute of your whole existence, rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.


Written by Galway Kinnell | |

How Could You Not

 -- for Jane kenyon


It is a day after many days of storms.
Having been washed and washed, the air glitters; small heaped cumuli blow across the sky; a shower visible against the firs douses the crocuses.
We knew it would happen one day this week.
Now, when I learn you have died, I go to the open door and look across at New Hampshire and see that there, too, the sun is bright and clouds are making their shadowy ways along the horizon; and I think: How could it not have been today? In another room, Keri Te Kanawa is singing the Laudate Dominum of Mozart, very faintly, as if in the past, to those who once sat in the steel seat of the old mowing machine, cheerful descendent of the scythe of the grim reaper, and drew the cutter bars little reciprocating triangles through the grass to make the stalks lie down in sunshine.
Could you have walked in the dark early this morning and found yourself grown completely tired of the successes and failures of medicine, of your year of pain and despair remitted briefly now and then by hope that had that leaden taste? Did you glimpse in first light the world as you loved it and see that, now, it was not wrong to die and that, on dying, you would leave your beloved in a day like paradise? Near sunrise did you loosen your hold a little? How could you not already have felt blessed for good, having these last days spoken your whole heart to him, who spoke his whole heart to you, so that in the silence he would not feel a single word was missing? How could you not have slipped into a spell, in full daylight, as he lay next to you, with his arms around you, as they have been, it must have seemed, all your life? How could your cheek not press a moment to his cheek, which presses itself to yours from now on? How could you not rise and go, with all that light at the window, those arms around you, and the sound, coming or going, hard to say, of a single-engine plane in the distance that no one else hears?


Written by Galway Kinnell | |

The Correspondence School Instructor Says Goodbye To His Poetry Students

 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 Sonnet; 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 letter 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 know.
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 feel only 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.
Goodbye, 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.