James Tate |
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.
Alan Seeger |
You have the grit and the guts, I know;
You are ready to answer blow for blow
You are virile, combative, stubborn, hard,
But your honor ends with your own back-yard;
Each man intent on his private goal,
You have no feeling for the whole;
What singly none would tolerate
You let unpunished hit the state,
Unmindful that each man must share
The stain he lets his country wear,
And (what no traveller ignores)
That her good name is often yours.
You are proud in the pride that feels its might;
From your imaginary height
Men of another race or hue
Are men of a lesser breed to you:
The neighbor at your southern gate
You treat with the scorn that has bred his hate.
To lend a spice to your disrespect
You call him the "greaser". But reflect!
The greaser has spat on you more than once;
He has handed you multiple affronts;
He has robbed you, banished you, burned and killed;
He has gone untrounced for the blood he spilled;
He has jeering used for his bootblack's rag
The stars and stripes of the gringo's flag;
And you, in the depths of your easy-chair --
What did you do, what did you care?
Did you find the season too cold and damp
To change the counter for the camp?
Were you frightened by fevers in Mexico?
I can't imagine, but this I know --
You are impassioned vastly more
By the news of the daily baseball score
Than to hear that a dozen countrymen
Have perished somewhere in Darien,
That greasers have taken their innocent lives
And robbed their holdings and raped their wives.
Not by rough tongues and ready fists
Can you hope to jilt in the modern lists.
The armies of a littler folk
Shall pass you under the victor's yoke,
Sobeit a nation that trains her sons
To ride their horses and point their guns --
Sobeit a people that comprehends
The limit where private pleasure ends
And where their public dues begin,
A people made strong by discipline
Who are willing to give -- what you've no mind to --
And understand -- what you are blind to --
The things that the individual
Must sacrifice for the good of all.
You have a leader who knows -- the man
Most fit to be called American,
A prophet that once in generations
Is given to point to erring nations
Brighter ideals toward which to press
And lead them out of the wilderness.
Will you turn your back on him once again?
Will you give the tiller once more to men
Who have made your country the laughing-stock
For the older peoples to scorn and mock,
Who would make you servile, despised, and weak,
A country that turns the other cheek,
Who care not how bravely your flag may float,
Who answer an insult with a note,
Whose way is the easy way in all,
And, seeing that polished arms appal
Their marrow of milk-fed pacifist,
Would tell you menace does not exist?
Are these, in the world's great parliament,
The men you would choose to represent
Your honor, your manhood, and your pride,
And the virtues your fathers dignified?
Oh, bury them deeper than the sea
In universal obloquy;
Forget the ground where they lie, or write
For epitaph: "Too proud to fight."
I have been too long from my country's shores
To reckon what state of mind is yours,
But as for myself I know right well
I would go through fire and shot and shell
And face new perils and make my bed
In new privations, if ROOSEVELT led;
But I have given my heart and hand
To serve, in serving another land,
Ideals kept bright that with you are dim;
Here men can thrill to their country's hymn,
For the passion that wells in the Marseillaise
Is the same that fires the French these days,
And, when the flag that they love goes by,
With swelling bosom and moistened eye
They can look, for they know that it floats there still
By the might of their hands and the strength of their will,
And through perils countless and trials unknown
Its honor each man has made his own.
They wanted the war no more than you,
But they saw how the certain menace grew,
And they gave two years of their youth or three
The more to insure their liberty
When the wrath of rifles and pennoned spears
Should roll like a flood on their wrecked frontiers.
They wanted the war no more than you,
But when the dreadful summons blew
And the time to settle the quarrel came
They sprang to their guns, each man was game;
And mark if they fight not to the last
For their hearths, their altars, and their past:
Yea, fight till their veins have been bled dry
For love of the country that WILL not die.
O friends, in your fortunate present ease
(Yet faced by the self-same facts as these),
If you would see how a race can soar
That has no love, but no fear, of war,
How each can turn from his private role
That all may act as a perfect whole,
How men can live up to the place they claim
And a nation, jealous of its good name,
Be true to its proud inheritance,
Oh, look over here and learn from FRANCE!
William Matthews |
I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem
and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience shat
literature. It was 1960 at The Showplace, long since
defunct, on West 4th st., and I sat at the bar,
casting beer money from a reel of ones,
the kid in the city, big ears like a puppy.
And I knew Mingus was a genius. I knew two
other things, but as it happens they were wrong.
So I made him look at this poem.
"There's a lot of that going around," he said,
and Sweet Baby Jesus he was right. He glowered
at me but didn't look as if he thought
bad poems were dangerous, the way some poets do.
If they were baseball executives they'd plot
to destroy sandlots everywhere so that the game
could be saved from children. Of course later
that night he fired his pianist in mid-number
and flurried him from the stand.
"We've suffered a diminuendo in personnel,"
he explained, and the band played on.
Thomas Lux |
each day mowed
and mowed his lawn, his dry quarter acre,
the machine slicing a wisp
from each blade's tip. Dust storms rose
around the roar: 6:00 P.M., every day,
spring, summer, fall. If he could mow
the snow he would.
On one side, his neighbors the cows
turned their backs to him
and did what they do to the grass.
Where he worked, I don't know
but it sets his jaw to: tight.
His wife a cipher, shoebox tissue,
a shattered apron. As if
into her head he drove a wedge of shale.
Years later his daughter goes to jail.
Mow, mow, mow his lawn
gently down a decade's summers.
On his other side lived mine and me,
across a narrow pasture, often fallow;
a field of fly balls, the best part of childhood
and baseball, but one could not cross his line
and if it did,
as one did in 1956
and another in 1958,
it came back coleslaw -- his lawn mower
ate it up, happy
to cut something, no matter
what the manual said
about foreign objects,
stones, or sticks.
David Lehman |
There comes a time in every man's life
when he thinks: I have never had a single
original thought in my life
including this one & therefore I shall
eliminate all ideas from my poems
which shall consist of cats, rice, rain
baseball cards, fire escapes, hanging plants
red brick houses where I shall give up booze
and organized religion even if it means
despair is a logical possibility that can't
be disproved I shall concentrate on the five
senses and what they half perceive and half
create, the green street signs with white
letters on them the body next to mine
asleep while I think these thoughts
that I want to eliminate like nostalgia
0 was there ever a man who felt as I do
like a pronoun out of step with all the other
floating signifiers no things but in words
an orange T-shirt a lime green awning
Galway Kinnell |
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 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.
Edward Field |
The poster with my picture on it
Is hanging on the bulletin board in the Post Office.
I stand by it hoping to be recognized
Posing first full face and then profile
But everybody passes by and I have to admit
The photograph was taken some years ago.
I was unwanted then and I'm unwanted now
Ah guess ah'll go up echo mountain and crah.
I wish someone would find my fingerprints somewhere
Maybe on a corpse and say, You're it.
Description: Male, or reasonably so
White, but not lily-white and usually deep-red
Thirty-fivish, and looks it lately
Five-feet-nine and one-hundred-thirty pounds: no physique
Black hair going gray, hairline receding fast
What used to be curly, now fuzzy
Brown eyes starey under beetling brow
Mole on chin, probably will become a wen
It is perfectly obvious that he was not popular at school
No good at baseball, and wet his bed.
His aliases tell his history: Dumbell, Good-for-nothing,
Jewboy, Fieldinsky, Skinny, Fierce Face, Greaseball, Sissy.
Warning: This man is not dangerous, answers to any name
Responds to love, don't call him or he will come.
Stephen Dunn |
My neighbor was a biker, a pusher, a dog
and wife beater.
In bad dreams I killed him
and once, in the consequential light of day,
I called the Humane Society
about Blue, his dog. They took her away
and I readied myself, a baseball bat
inside my door.
That night I hear his wife scream
and I couldn't help it, that pathetic
relief; her again, not me.
It would be years before I'd understand
why victims cling and forgive. I plugged in
the Sleep-Sound and it crashed
like the ocean all the way to sleep.
One afternoon I found him
on the stoop,
a pistol in his hand, waiting,
he said, for me. A sparrow had gotten in
to our common basement.
Could he have permission
to shoot it? The bullets, he explained,
might go through the floor.
I said I'd catch it, wait, give me
a few minutes and, clear-eyed, brilliantly
afraid, I trapped it
with a pillow. I remember how it felt
when I got my hand, and how it burst
that hand open
when I took it outside, a strength
that must have come out of hopelessness
and the sudden light
and the trees. And I remember
the way he slapped the gun against
his open palm,
kept slapping it, and wouldn't speak.
Charles Bukowski |
they found him walking along the freeway
all red in
he had taken a rusty tin can
and cut off his sexual
as if to say --
see what you've done to
me? you might as well have the
and he put part of him
in one pocket and
part of him in
and that's how they found him,
they gave him over to the
who tried to sew the parts
but the parts were
the way they
I think sometimes of all of the good
turned over to the
monsters of the
maybe it was his protest against
a one man
that never squeezed in
the concert reviews and the
God, or somebody,
James Whitcomb Riley |
Tell you what I like the best --
'Long about knee-deep in June,
'Bout the time strawberries melts
On the vine, -- some afternoon
Like to jes' git out and rest,
And not work at nothin' else!
Orchard's where I'd ruther be --
Needn't fence it in fer me! --
Jes' the whole sky overhead,
And the whole airth underneath --
Sort o' so's a man kin breathe
Like he ort, and kind o' has
Elbow-room to keerlessly
Sprawl out len'thways on the grass
Where the shadders thick and soft
As the kivvers on the bed
Mother fixes in the loft
Allus, when they's company!
Jes' a-sort o' lazin there -
S'lazy, 'at you peek and peer
Through the wavin' leaves above,
Like a feller 'ats in love
And don't know it, ner don't keer!
Ever'thing you hear and see
Got some sort o' interest -
Maybe find a bluebird's nest
Tucked up there conveenently
Fer the boy 'at's ap' to be
Up some other apple tree!
Watch the swallers skootin' past
Bout as peert as you could ast;
Er the Bob-white raise and whiz
Where some other's whistle is.
Ketch a shadder down below,
And look up to find the crow --
Er a hawk, - away up there,
'Pearantly froze in the air! --
Hear the old hen squawk, and squat
Over ever' chick she's got,
Suddent-like! - and she knows where
That-air hawk is, well as you! --
You jes' bet yer life she do! --
Eyes a-glitterin' like glass,
Waitin' till he makes a pass!
Pee-wees wingin', to express
My opinion, 's second-class,
Yit you'll hear 'em more er less;
Sapsucks gittin' down to biz,
Weedin' out the lonesomeness;
Mr. Bluejay, full o' sass,
In them baseball clothes o' his,
Sportin' round the orchad jes'
Like he owned the premises!
Sun out in the fields kin sizz,
But flat on yer back, I guess,
In the shade's where glory is!
That's jes' what I'd like to do
Stiddy fer a year er two!
Plague! Ef they ain't somepin' in
Work 'at kind o' goes ag'in'
My convictions! - 'long about
Here in June especially! --
Under some ole apple tree,
Jes' a-restin through and through,
I could git along without
Nothin' else at all to do
Only jes' a-wishin' you
Wuz a-gittin' there like me,
And June wuz eternity!
Lay out there and try to see
Jes' how lazy you kin be! --
Tumble round and souse yer head
In the clover-bloom, er pull
Yer straw hat acrost yer eyes
And peek through it at the skies,
Thinkin' of old chums 'ats dead,
Maybe, smilin' back at you
In betwixt the beautiful
Clouds o'gold and white and blue! --
Month a man kin railly love --
June, you know, I'm talkin' of!
March ain't never nothin' new! --
April's altogether too
Brash fer me! and May -- I jes'
'Bominate its promises, --
Little hints o' sunshine and
Green around the timber-land --
A few blossoms, and a few
Chip-birds, and a sprout er two, --
Drap asleep, and it turns in
Fore daylight and snows ag'in! --
But when June comes - Clear my th'oat
With wild honey! -- Rench my hair
In the dew! And hold my coat!
Whoop out loud! And th'ow my hat! --
June wants me, and I'm to spare!
Spread them shadders anywhere,
I'll get down and waller there,
And obleeged to you at that!