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Best Famous Heather Mchugh Poems


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by Heather McHugh |

Ghoti

 The gh comes from rough, the o from women's,
and the ti from unmentionables--presto:
there's the perfect English instance of
unlovablility--complete

with fish. Our wish was for a better
revelation: for a correspondence--
if not lexical, at least
phonetic; if not with Madonna

then at least with Mary Magdalene.
Instead we get the sheer
opacity of things: an accident
of incident, a tracery of history: the dung

inside the dungarees, the jock strap for a codpiece, and
the ruined patches bordering the lip. One boot (high-heeled) could make
Sorrento sorry, Capri corny, even little Italy
a little ill. Low-cased, a lover looks

one over--eggs without ease, semen without oars--
and there, on board, tricked out in fur and fin,
the landlubber who wound up captain. Where's it going,
this our (H)MS? More west? More forth? The quest

itself is at a long and short behest: it's wound
in winds. (Take rough from seas, and women from the shore,
unmentionables out of mind). We're here
for something rich, beyond

appearances. What do I mean? (What can one say?)
A minute of millenium, unculminating
stint, a stonishment: my god, what's
utterable? Gargah, gatto, goat. Us animals is made

to seine and trawl and drag and gaff
our way across the earth. The earth, it rolls.
We dig, lay lines, book arguably
perfect passages. But earth remains untranslated,

unplumbed. A million herring run where we
catch here a freckle, there a pock; the depths to which things live
words only glint at. Terns in flight work up
what fond minds might

call syntax. As for that
semantic antic in the distance, is it
whiskered fish, finned cat? Don't settle
just for two. Some bottomographies are

brooded over, and some skies swum through. . .


by Heather McHugh |

With Due Respect To Thor

 The dog has shrunk between the brake and clutch.
His shaking shakes a two-ton truck. From a God

so furious, he cannot hide his hide. Outside,
in the world at large, black hours are being

pearled and shafted. A tree stands out
spectacularly branched; the mind's eye

grows alert. This thing can hurt.
It had us once, it's having volts

of big idea again—about
thirteen a minute. Do we need

to know more? Are we sure?
Just wait—a brain this insecure

may need another bolt be driven in it.


by Heather McHugh |

What He Thought

 We were supposed to do a job in Italy
and, full of our feeling for
ourselves (our sense of being
Poets from America) we went
from Rome to Fano, met
the Mayor, mulled a couple
matters over. The Italian literati seemed
bewildered by the language of America: they asked us
what does "flat drink" mean? and the mysterious
"cheap date" (no explanation lessened
this one's mystery). Among Italian writers we

could recognize our counterparts: the academic,
the apologist, the arrogant, the amorous,
the brazen and the glib. And there was one
administrator (The Conservative), in suit
of regulation gray, who like a good tour guide
with measured pace and uninflected tone
narrated sights and histories
the hired van hauled us past.
Of all he was most politic--
and least poetic-- so
it seemed. Our last
few days in Rome
I found a book of poems this
unprepossessing one had written: it was there
in the pensione room (a room he'd recommended)
where it must have been abandoned by
the German visitor (was there a bus of them?) to whom
he had inscribed and dated it a month before. I couldn't
read Italian either, so I put the book
back in the wardrobe's dark. We last Americans

were due to leave
tomorrow. For our parting evening then
our host chose something in a family restaurant,
and there we sat and chatted, sat and chewed, till,
sensible it was our last big chance to be Poetic, make
our mark, one of us asked

"What's poetry?
Is it the fruits and vegetables
and marketplace at Campo dei Fiori

or the statue there?" Because I was
the glib one, I identified the answer
instantly, I didn't have to think-- "The truth
is both, it's both!" I blurted out. But that
was easy. That was easiest
to say. What followed taught me something
about difficulty,

for our underestimated host spoke out
all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:

The statue represents
Giordano Bruno, brought
to be burned in the public square
because of his offence against authority, which was to say
the Church. His crime was his belief
the universe does not revolve around
the human being: God is no
fixed point or central government
but rather is poured in waves, through
all things: all things
move. "If God is not the soul itself,
he is the soul OF THE SOUL of the world." Such was
his heresy. The day they brought him forth to die

they feared he might incite the crowd (the man
was famous for his eloquence). And so his captors
placed upon his face
an iron mask
in which he could not speak.

That is how they burned him.
That is how he died,
without a word,
in front of everyone. And poetry--

(we'd all put down our forks by now, to listen to
the man in gray; he went on softly)-- poetry

is what he thought, but did not say.


by Heather McHugh |

Stroke

 The literate are ill-prepared for this
snap in the line of life:
the day turns a trick 
of twisted tongues and is
untiable, the month by no mere root
moon-ridden, and the yearly eloquences yielding more
than summer's part of speech times four. We better learn

the buried meaning in the grave: here
all we see of its alphabet is tracks
of predators, all we know of its tense
the slow seconds and quick centuries
of sex. Unletter the past and then 
the future comes to terms. One late fall day
I stumbled from the study and I found
the easy symbols of the living room revised:

my shocked senses flocked to the window's reference
where now all backyard attitudes were deep
in memory: the landscapes I had known too well-
the picnic table and the hoe, the tricycle, the stubborn
shrub-the homegrown syllables
of shapely living-all

lay sanded and camelled by foreign snow...


by Heather McHugh |

Etymological Dirge

 'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.

Calm comes from burning.
Tall comes from fast.
Comely doesn't come from come.
Person comes from mask.

The kin of charity is whore,
the root of charity is dear.
Incentive has its source in song
and winning in the sufferer.

Afford yourself what you can carry out.
A coward and a coda share a word.
We get our ugliness from fear.
We get our danger from the lord.


by Heather McHugh |

The Father of the Predicaments

 He came at night to each of us asleep
And trained us in the virtues we most lacked.
Me he admonished to return his stare
Correctly, without fear.Unless I could,
Unblinking, more and more incline
Toward a deep unblinkingness of his,
He would not let me rest.Outside
In the dark of the world, at the foot
Of the library steps, there lurked
A Mercury of rust, its cab half-lit.
(Two worldly forms who huddled there
Knew what they meant.I had no business

With the things they knew.Nor did I feel myself
Drawn back through Circulation into Reference,
Until I saw how blue I had become, by virtue
Of its five TVs, their monitors abuzz with is's

Etymologies...)


by Heather McHugh |

Nano-Knowledge

 There, a little right
of Ursus Major, is
the Milky Way:
a man can point it out,
the biggest billionfold of all
predicaments he's in:
his planet's street address.

What gives? What looks
a stripe a hundred million
miles away from here

is where we live.

*

Let's keep it clear. The Northern Lights
are not the North Star. Being but
a blur, they cannot reassure us.
They keep moving - I think far
too easily. September spills

some glimmers of
the boreals to come:
they're modest pools
of horizontal haze, where later

they'll appear as foldings in the vertical,
a work of curtains, throbbing dim
or bright. (One wonders at
one's eyes.) The very sight
will angle off in glances or in shoots
of something brilliant, something

bigger than we know, its hints uncatchable
in shifts of mind ... So there

it is again, the mind, with its
old bluster, its self-centered
question: what

is dimming, what is bright?
The spirit sinks and swells, which cannot tell
itself from any little luster.


by Heather McHugh |

Ghazal of the Better-Unbegun

 Too volatile, am I?too voluble?too much a word-person?
I blame the soup:I'm a primordially
stirred person.

Two pronouns and a vehicle was Icarus with wings.
The apparatus of his selves made an ab-
surd person.

The sound I make is sympathy's:sad dogs are tied afar.
But howling I become an ever more un-
heard person.

I need a hundred more of you to make a likelihood.
The mirror's not convincing-- that at-best in-
ferred person.

As time's revealing gets revolting, I start looking out.
Look in and what you see is one unholy
blurred person.

The only cure for birth one doesn't love to contemplate.
Better to be an unsung song, an unoc-
curred person.

McHugh, you'll be the death of me -- each self and second studied!
Addressing you like this, I'm halfway to the
third person.