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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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Written 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.

Written by James Tate |


 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.

Written 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.

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Written by James Tate |

The Definition of Gardening

 Jim just loves to garden, yes he does.
He likes nothing better than to put on his little overalls and his straw hat.
He says, "Let's go get those tools, Jim.
" But then doubt begins to set in.
He says, "What is a garden, anyway?" And thoughts about a "modernistic" garden begin to trouble him, eat away at his resolve.
He stands in the driveway a long time.
"Horticulture is a groping in the dark into the obscure and unfamiliar, kneeling before a disinterested secret, slapping it, punching it like a Chinese puzzle, birdbrained babbling gibberish, dig and destroy, pull out and apply salt, hoe and spray, before it spreads, burn roots, where not desired, with gloved hands, poisonous, the self-sacrifice of it, the self-love, into the interior, thunderclap, excruciating, through the nose, the earsplitting necrology of it, the withering, shrivelling, the handy hose holder and Persian insect powder and smut fungi, the enemies of the iris, wireworms are worse than their parents, there is no way out, flowers as big as heads, pock-marked, disfigured, blinking insolently at me, the me who so loves to garden because it prevents the heaving of the ground and the untimely death of porch furniture, and dark, murky days in a large city and the dream home under a permanent storm is also a factor to keep in mind.

Written by James Tate |


 It seemed as if the enormous journey 
was finally approaching its conclusion.
From the window of the train the last trees were dissipating, a child-like sailor waved once, a seal-like dog barked and died.
The conductor entered the lavatory and was not seen again, although his harmonica-playing was appreciated.
He was not without talent, some said.
A botanist with whom I had become acquainted actually suggested we form a group or something.
I was looking for a familiar signpost in his face, or a landmark that would indicate the true colors of his tribe.
But, alas, there was not a glass of water anywhere or even the remains of a trail.
I got a bewildered expression of my own and slinked to the back of the car where a nun started to tickle me.
She confided to me that it was her cowboy pride that got her through .
Through what? I thought, but drew my hand close to my imaginary vest.
"That's a beautiful vest," she said, as I began crawling down the aisle.
At last, I pressed my face against the window: A little fog was licking its chop, as was the stationmaster licking something.
We didn't stop.
We didn't appear to be arriving, and yet we were almost out of landscape.
No creeks or rivers.
Nothing even remotely reminding one of a mound.
O mound! Thou ain't around no more.
A heap of abstract geometrical symbols, that's what it's coming to, I thought.
A nothing you could sink your teeth into.
"Relief's on the way," a little know-nothing boy said to me.
"Imagine my surprise," I said and reached out to muss his hair.
But he had no hair and it felt unlucky touching his skull like that.
"Forget what I said," he said.
"What did you say?" I asked in automatic compliance.
And then it got very dark and quiet.
I closed my eyes and dreamed of an emu I once loved.

Written by James Tate |

My Felisberto

 My felisberto is handsomer than your mergotroid,
although, admittedly, your mergotroid may be the wiser of the two.
Whereas your mergotroid never winces or quails, my felisberto is a titan of inconsistencies.
For a night of wit and danger and temptation my felisberto would be the obvious choice.
However, at dawn or dusk when serenity is desired your mergotroid cannot be ignored.
Merely to sit near it in the garden and watch the fabrications of the world swirl by, the deep-sea's bathymetry wash your eyes, not to mention the little fawns of the forest and their flip-floppy gymnastics, ah, for this and so much more your mergotroid is infinitely preferable.
But there is a place for darkness and obscurity without which life can sometimes seem too much, too frivolous and too profound simultaneously, and that is when my felisberto is needed, is longed for and loved, and then the sun can rise again.
The bee and the hummingbird drink of the world, and your mergotroid elaborates the silent concert that is always and always about to begin.

Written 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.

Written 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.

Written by James Tate |

More Later Less The Same

 The common is unusually calm--they captured the storm
last night, it's sleeping in the stockade, relieved
of its duty, pacified, tamed, a pussycat.
But not before it tied the flagpole in knots, and not before it alarmed the firemen out of their pants.
Now it's really calm, almost too calm, as though anything could happen, and it would be a first.
It could be the worst thing that ever happened.
All the little rodents are sitting up and counting their nuts.
What if nothing ever happened again? Would there be enough to "eke out an existence," as they say? I wish "they" were here now, kicking up a little dust, mussing my hair, taunting me with weird syllogisms.
Instead, these are the windless, halcyon days.
The lull dispassion is upon us.
Serenity has triumphed in its mindless, atrophied way.
A school of Stoics walks by, eager, in its phlegmatic way, to observe human degradation, lust and debauchery at close quarters.
They are disappointed, but it barely shows on their faces.
They are late Stoa, very late.
They missed the bus.
They should have been here last night.
The joint was jumping.
But people change, they grow up, they fly around.
It's the same old story, but I don't remember it.
It's a tale of gore and glory, but we had to leave.
It could have turned out differently, and it did.
I feel much the same way about the city of Pompeii.
A police officer with a poodle cut squirts his gun at me for saying that, and it's still just barely possible that I didn't, and the clock is running out on his sort of behavior.
I'm napping in a wigwam as I write this, near Amity Street, which is buried under fifteen feet of ashes and cinders and rocks.
Moss and a certain herblike creature are beginning to whisper nearby.
I am beside myself, peering down, senselessly, since, for us, in space, there is neither above nor below; and thus the expression "He is being nibbled to death by ducks" shines with such style, such poise, and reserve, a beautiful, puissant form and a lucid thought.
To which I reply "It is time we had our teeth examined by a dentist.
" So said James the Lesser to James the More.

Written by James Tate |

Shut Up And Eat Your Toad

 The disorganization to which I currently belong
has skipped several meetings in a row
which is a pattern I find almost fatally attractive.
Down at headquarters there's a secretary and a janitor who I shall call Suzie and boy can she ever shoot straight.
She'll shoot you straight in the eye if you ask her to.
I mow the grass every other Saturday and that's the day she polishes the trivets whether they need it or not, I don't know if there is a name for this kind of behavior, hers or mine, but somebody once said something or another.
That's why I joined up in the first place, so somebody could teach me a few useful phrases, such as, "Good afternoon, my dear anal-retentive Doctor," and "My, that is a lovely dictionary you have on, Mrs.
" Still, I hardly feel like functioning even on a brute or loutish level.
My plants think I'm one of them, and they don't look so good themselves, or so I tell them.
I like to give them at least several reasons to be annoyed with me, it's how they exercise their skinny spectrum of emotions.
That and cribbage.
Often when I return from the club late at night, weary-laden, weary-winged, washed out, I can actually hear the nematodes working, sucking the juices from the living cells of my narcissus.
I have mentioned this to Suzie on several occasions.
Each time she has backed away from me, panic-stricken when really I was just making a stab at conversation.
It is not my intention to alarm anyone, but dear Lord if I find a dead man in the road and his eyes are crawling with maggots, I refuse to say have a nice day Suzie just because she's desperate and her life is a runaway carriage rushing toward a cliff now can I? Would you let her get away with that kind of crap? Who are you anyway? And what kind of disorganization is this? Baron of the Holy Grail? Well it's about time you got here.
I was worried, I was starting to fret.

Written 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.

Written by James Tate |

Never Again The Same

 Speaking of sunsets,
last night's was shocking.
I mean, sunsets aren't supposed to frighten you, are they? Well, this one was terrifying.
Sure, it was beautiful, but far too beautiful.
It wasn't natural.
One climax followed another and then another until your knees went weak and you couldn't breathe.
The colors were definitely not of this world, peaches dripping opium, pandemonium of tangerines, inferno of irises, Plutonian emeralds, all swirling and churning, swabbing, like it was playing with us, like we were nothing, as if our whole lives were a preparation for this, this for which nothing could have prepared us and for which we could not have been less prepared.
The mockery of it all stung us bitterly.
And when it was finally over we whimpered and cried and howled.
And then the streetlights came on as always and we looked into one another's eyes-- ancient caves with still pools and those little transparent fish who have never seen even one ray of light.
And the calm that returned to us was not even our own.

Written 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.

Written 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.

Written by James Tate |

Happy As The Day Is Long

 I take the long walk up the staircase to my secret room.
Today's big news: they found Amelia Earhart's shoe, size 9.
1992: Charlie Christian is bebopping at Minton's in 1941.
Today, the Presidential primaries have failed us once again.
We'll look for our excitement elsewhere, in the last snow that is falling, in tomorrow's Gospel Concert in Springfield.
It's a good day to be a cat and just sleep.
Or to read the Confessions of Saint Augustine.
Jesus called the sons of Zebedee the Sons of Thunder.
In my secret room, plans are hatched: we'll explore the Smoky Mountains.
Then we'll walk along a beach: Hallelujah! (A letter was just delivered by Overnight Express-- it contained nothing of importance, I slept through it.
) (I guess I'm trying to be "above the fray.
") The Russians, I know, have developed a language called "Lincos" designed for communicating with the inhabitants of other worlds.
That's been a waste of time, not even a postcard.
But then again, there are tree-climbing fish, called anabases.
They climb the trees out of stupidity, or so it is said.
Who am I to judge? I want to break out of here.
A bee is not strong in geometry: it cannot tell a square from a triangle or a circle.
The locker room of my skull is full of panting egrets.
I'm saying that strictly for effect.
In time I will heal, I know this, or I believe this.
The contents and furnishings of my secret room will be labeled and organized so thoroughly it will be a little frightening.
What I thought was infinite will turn out to be just a couple of odds and ends, a tiny miscellany, miniature stuff, fragments of novelties, of no great moment.
But it will also be enough, maybe even more than enough, to suggest an immense ritual and tradition.
And this makes me very happy.