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Best Famous James Tate Poems


Here is a collection of the all-time best famous James Tate poems. This is a select list of the best famous James Tate poetry. Reading, writing, and enjoying famous James Tate poetry (as well as classical and contemporary poems) is a great past time. These top poems are the best examples of James Tate poems.

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by James Tate |

Thinking Ahead To Possible Options And A Worst-Case Scenario

 I swerved to avoid hitting a squirrel
in the center of the road and that's when
the deer came charging out of the forest
and forced me to hit the brakes for all I
was worth and I careened back to the other
side of the road just as a skunk came toddling
out of Mrs. Bancroft's front yard and I swung
back perhaps just grazing it a bit. I glanced
quickly in the rearview mirror and in that
instant a groundhog waddled from the side
of the road and I zigzagged madly and don't
know if I nipped it or not because up ahead I
could see a coyote stalking the Collier's
cat. Oh well, I said, and drove the rest
of the way home without incident.


by James Tate |

Goodtime Jesus

 Jesus got up one day a little later than usual. He had been dream-
ing so deep there was nothing left in his head. What was it?
A nightmare, dead bodies walking all around him, eyes rolled
back, skin falling off. But he wasn't afraid of that. It was a beau-
tiful day. How 'bout some coffee? Don't mind if I do. Take a little
ride on my donkey, I love that donkey. Hell, I love everybody.


by James Tate |

My Great Great Etc. Uncle Patrick Henry

 There's a fortune to be made in just about everything
in this country, somebody's father had to invent
everything--baby food, tractors, rat poisoning.
My family's obviously done nothing since the beginning
of time. They invented poverty and bad taste
and getting by and taking it from the boss.
O my mother goes around chewing her nails and
spitting them in a jar: You shouldn't be ashamed
of yourself she says, think of your family.
My family I say what have they ever done but
paint by numbers the most absurd and disgusting scenes
of plastic squalor and human degradation.
Well then think of your great great etc. Uncle
Patrick Henry.


by James Tate |

Head of a White Woman Winking

 She has one good bumblebee
which she leads about town
on a leash of clover.
It's as big as a Saint Bernard
but also extremely fragile.
People want to pet its long, shaggy coat.
These would be mostly whirling dervishes
out shopping for accessories.
When Lily winks they understand everything,
right down to the particle
of a butterfly's wing lodged
in her last good eye,
so the situation is avoided,
the potential for a cataclysm
is narrowly averted,
and the bumblebee lugs
its little bundle of shaved nerves
forward, on a mission
from some sick, young godhead.


by James Tate |

Dream On

 Some people go their whole lives
without ever writing a single poem.
Extraordinary people who don't hesitate
to cut somebody's heart or skull open.
They go to baseball games with the greatest of ease.
and play a few rounds of golf as if it were nothing.
These same people stroll into a church 
as if that were a natural part of life. 
Investing money is second nature to them. 
They contribute to political campaigns 
that have absolutely no poetry in them 
and promise none for the future.
They sit around the dinner table at night 
and pretend as though nothing is missing. 
Their children get caught shoplifting at the mall 
and no one admits that it is poetry they are missing. 
The family dog howls all night, 
lonely and starving for more poetry in his life. 
Why is it so difficult for them to see
that, without poetry, their lives are effluvial.
Sure, they have their banquets, their celebrations, 
croquet, fox hunts, their sea shores and sunsets, 
their cocktails on the balcony, dog races,
and all that kissing and hugging, and don't 
forget the good deeds, the charity work, 
nursing the baby squirrels all through the night,
filling the birdfeeders all winter,
helping the stranger change her tire.
Still, there's that disagreeable exhalation
from decaying matter, subtle but everpresent.
They walk around erect like champions.
They are smooth-spoken and witty.
When alone, rare occasion, they stare
into the mirror for hours, bewildered.
There was something they meant to say, but didn't: 
"And if we put the statue of the rhinoceros
next to the tweezers, and walk around the room three times,
learn to yodel, shave our heads, call 
our ancestors back from the dead--" 
poetrywise it's still a bust, bankrupt.
You haven't scribbled a syllable of it.
You're a nowhere man misfiring
the very essence of your life, flustering
nothing from nothing and back again.
The hereafter may not last all that long.
Radiant childhood sweetheart,
secret code of everlasting joy and sorrow, 
fanciful pen strokes beneath the eyelids:
all day, all night meditation, knot of hope,
kernel of desire, pure ordinariness of life 
seeking, through poetry, a benediction
or a bed to lie down on, to connect, reveal,
explore, to imbue meaning on the day's extravagant labor. 
And yet it's cruel to expect too much. 
It's a rare species of bird 
that refuses to be categorized.
Its song is barely audible.
It is like a dragonfly in a dream--
here, then there, then here again,
low-flying amber-wing darting upward
then out of sight.
And the dream has a pain in its heart
the wonders of which are manifold,
or so the story is told.


by James Tate |

A Knock On The Door

 They ask me if I've ever thought about the end of
the world, and I say, "Come in, come in, let me
give you some lunch, for God's sake." After a few
bites it's the afterlife they want to talk about.
"Ouch," I say, "did you see that grape leaf
skeletonizer?" Then they're talking about
redemption and the chosen few sitting right by
His side. "Doing what?" I ask. "Just sitting?" I
am surrounded by burned up zombies. "Let's
have some lemon chiffon pie I bought yesterday
at the 3 Dog Bakery." But they want to talk about
my soul. I'm getting drowsy and see butterflies
everywhere. "Would you gentlemen like to take a
nap, I know I would." They stand and back away
from me, out the door, walking toward my
neighbors, a black cloud over their heads and
they see nothing without end.


by James Tate |

Restless Leg Syndrome

 After the burial 
we returned to our units 
and assumed our poses. 
Our posture was the new posture 
and not the old sick posture. 
When we left our stations 
it was just to prove we could, 
not a serious departure 
or a search for yet another beginning. 
We were done with all that.
We were settled in, as they say, 
though it might have been otherwise. 
What a story!
After the burial we returned to our units 
and here is where I am experiencing 
that lag kicking syndrome thing. 
My leg, for no apparent reason,
flies around the room kicking stuff, 
well, whatever is in its way, 
like a screen or a watering can.
Those are just two examples
and indeed I could give many more.
I could construct a catalogue 
of the things it kicks, 
perhaps I will do that later.
We'll just have to see if it's really wanted. 
Or I could do a little now 
and then return to listing later.
It kicked the scrimshaw collection, 
yes it did. It kicked the ocelot, 
which was rude and uncalled for,
and yes hurtful. It kicked 
the guacamole right out of its bowl, 
which made for a grubby 
and potentially dangerous workplace. 
I was out testing the new speed bump 
when it kicked the Viscountess, 
which she probably deserved, 
and I was happy, needless to say, 
to not be a witness.
The kicking subsided for a while, 
nobody was keeping track of time 
at that time so it is impossible 
to fill out the forms accurately. 
Suffice it to say we remained
at our units on constant alert.
And then it kicked over the little cow town
we had set up for punching and that sort of thing, 
a covered wagon filled with cover girls.
But now it was kicked over 
and we had a moment of silence, 
but it was clear to me 
that many of our minions 
were getting tetchy 
and some of them were getting tetchier.
And then it kicked a particularly treasured snuff box 
which, legend has it, once belonged to somebody 
named Bob Mackey, so we were understandably 
saddened and returned to our units rather weary. 
No one seemed to think I was in the least bit culpable. 
It was my leg, of course, that was doing the actual kicking, 
of that I am almost certain.
At any rate, we decided to bury it.
After the burial we returned to our units 
and assumed our poses.
A little bit of time passed, not much, 
and then John's leg started acting suspicious. 
It looked like it wanted to kick the replica 
of the White House we keep on hand 
just for situations such as this.
And then, sure enough, it did.


by James Tate |

Loyalty

 This is the hardest part:
When I came back to life
I was a good family dog
and not too friendly to strangers.
I got a thirty-five dollar raise
in salary, and through the pea-soup fogs 
I drove the General, and introduced him 
at rallies. I had a totalitarian approach 
and was a massive boost to his popularity. 
I did my best to reduce the number of people. 
The local bourgeoisie did not exist.
One of them was a mystic 
and walked right over me 
as if I were a bed of hot coals.
This is par for the course-
I will be employing sundry golf metaphors 
henceforth, because a dog, best friend 
and chief advisor to the General, should. 
While dining with the General I said,
"Let's play the back nine in a sacred rage. 
Let's tee-off over the foredoomed community 
and putt ourselves thunderously, touching bottom." 
He drank it all in, rugged and dusky.
I think I know what he was thinking. 
He held his automatic to my little head 
and recited a poem about my many weaknesses, 
for which I loved him so.


by James Tate |

Days of Pie and Coffee

 A motorist once said to me, 
and this was in the country, 
on a county lane, a motorist 
slowed his vehicle as I was 
walking my dear old collie,
Sithney, by the side of the road, 
and the motorist came to a halt 
mildly alarming both Sithney and myself, 
not yet accustomed to automobiles, 
and this particular motorist 
sent a little spasm of fright up our spines, 
which in turn panicked the driver a bit 
and it seemed as if we were off to a bad start, 
and that's when Sithney began to bark 
and the man could not be heard, that is, 
if he was speaking or trying to speak 
because I was commanding Sithnewy to be silent, 
though, indeed I was sympathetic 
to his emotional excitement.
It was, as I recall, a day of prodigious beauty. 
April 21, 1932--clouds
like the inside of your head explained. 
Bluebirds, too numerous to mention. 
The clover calling you by name.
And fields oozing green.
And this motorist from nowhere 
moving his lips
like the wings of a butterfly 
and nothing coming out, 
and Sithney silent now. 
He was no longer looking at us, 
but straight ahead 
where his election was in doubt.
"That's a fine dog," he said.
"Collies are made in heaven."
Well, if I were a voting man I'd vote for you, I said.
"A bedoozling day to be lost in the country, I say.
Leastways, I am a misplaced individual."
We introduced ourselves
and swapped a few stories.
He was a veteran and a salesmen
who didn't believe in his product--
I've forgotten what it was--hair restorer,
parrot feed--and he enjoyed nothing more
then a a day spent meandering the back roads 
in his jalopy. I gave him directions 
to the Denton farm, but I doubt 
that he followed them, he didn't 
seem to be listening, and it was getting late 
and Sithney had an idea of his own 
and I don't know why I am remembering this now, 
just that he summed himself up by saying 
"I've missed too many boats" 
and all these years later
I keep thinking that was a man 
who loved to miss boats,
but he didn't miss them that much.


by James Tate |

The List of Famous Hats

 Napoleon's hat is an obvious choice I guess to list as a famous
hat, but that's not the hat I have in mind. That was his hat for
show. I am thinking of his private bathing cap, which in all hon-
esty wasn't much different than the one any jerk might buy at a
corner drugstore now, except for two minor eccentricities. The
first one isn't even funny: Simply it was a white rubber bathing
cap, but too small. Napoleon led such a hectic life ever since his
childhood, even farther back than that, that he never had a
chance to buy a new bathing cap and still as a grown-up--well,
he didn't really grow that much, but his head did: He was a pin-
head at birth, and he used, until his death really, the same little
tiny bathing cap that he was born in, and this meant that later it
was very painful to him and gave him many headaches, as if he
needed more. So, he had to vaseline his skull like crazy to even
get the thing on. The second eccentricity was that it was a tricorn
bathing cap. Scholars like to make a lot out of this, and it would
be easy to do. My theory is simple-minded to be sure: that be-
neath his public head there was another head and it was a pyra-
mid or something.