Nazim Hikmet |
it's 1962 March 28th
I'm sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
night is falling
I never knew I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smoky wet plain
I don't like
comparing nightfall to a tired bird
I didn't know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn't worked the earth love it
I've never worked the earth
it must be my only Platonic love
and here I've loved rivers all this time
whether motionless like this they curl skirting the hills
European hills crowned with chateaus
or whether stretched out flat as far as the eye can see
I know you can't wash in the same river even once
I know the river will bring new lights you'll never see
I know we live slightly longer than a horse but not nearly as long as a crow
I know this has troubled people before
and will trouble those after me
I know all this has been said a thousand times before
and will be said after me
I didn't know I loved the sky
cloudy or clear
the blue vault Andrei studied on his back at Borodino
in prison I translated both volumes of War and Peace into Turkish
I hear voices
not from the blue vault but from the yard
the guards are beating someone again
I didn't know I loved trees
bare beeches near Moscow in Peredelkino
they come upon me in winter noble and modest
beeches are Russian the way poplars are Turkish
"the poplars of Izmir
losing their leaves.
they call me The Knife.
lover like a young tree.
I blow stately mansions sky-high"
in the Ilgaz woods in 1920 I tied an embroidered linen handkerchief
to a pine bough for luck
I never knew I loved roads
even the asphalt kind
Vera's behind the wheel we're driving from Moscow to the Crimea
formerly "Goktepé ili" in Turkish
the two of us inside a closed box
the world flows past on both sides distant and mute
I was never so close to anyone in my life
bandits stopped me on the red road between Bolu and Geredé
when I was eighteen
apart from my life I didn't have anything in the wagon they could take
and at eighteen our lives are what we value least
I've written this somewhere before
wading through a dark muddy street I'm going to the shadow play
a paper lantern leading the way
maybe nothing like this ever happened
maybe I read it somewhere an eight-year-old boy
going to the shadow play
Ramazan night in Istanbul holding his grandfather's hand
his grandfather has on a fez and is wearing the fur coat
with a sable collar over his robe
and there's a lantern in the servant's hand
and I can't contain myself for joy
flowers come to mind for some reason
poppies cactuses jonquils
in the jonquil garden in Kadikoy Istanbul I kissed Marika
fresh almonds on her breath
I was seventeen
my heart on a swing touched the sky
I didn't know I loved flowers
friends sent me three red carnations in prison
I just remembered the stars
I love them too
whether I'm floored watching them from below
or whether I'm flying at their side
I have some questions for the cosmonauts
were the stars much bigger
did they look like huge jewels on black velvet
or apricots on orange
did you feel proud to get closer to the stars
I saw color photos of the cosmos in Ogonek magazine now don't
be upset comrades but nonfigurative shall we say or abstract
well some of them looked just like such paintings which is to
say they were terribly figurative and concrete
my heart was in my mouth looking at them
they are our endless desire to grasp things
seeing them I could even think of death and not feel at all sad
I never knew I loved the cosmos
snow flashes in front of my eyes
both heavy wet steady snow and the dry whirling kind
I didn't know I liked snow
I never knew I loved the sun
even when setting cherry-red as now
in Istanbul too it sometimes sets in postcard colors
but you aren't about to paint it that way
I didn't know I loved the sea
except the Sea of Azov
or how much
I didn't know I loved clouds
whether I'm under or up above them
whether they look like giants or shaggy white beasts
moonlight the falsest the most languid the most petit-bourgeois
I like it
I didn't know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass my
heart leaves me tangled up in a net or trapped inside a drop
and takes off for uncharted countries I didn't know I loved
rain but why did I suddenly discover all these passions sitting
by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
is it because I lit my sixth cigarette
one alone could kill me
is it because I'm half dead from thinking about someone back in Moscow
her hair straw-blond eyelashes blue
the train plunges on through the pitch-black night
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn't know I loved sparks
I didn't know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty
to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
watching the world disappear as if on a journey of no return
19 April 1962
Pablo Neruda |
How neatly a cat sleeps,
Sleeps with its paws and its posture,
Sleeps with its wicked claws,
And with its unfeeling blood,
Sleeps with ALL the rings a series
Of burnt circles which have formed
The odd geology of its sand-colored tail.
I should like to sleep like a cat,
With all the fur of time,
With a tongue rough as flint,
With the dry sex of fire and
After speaking to no one,
Stretch myself over the world,
Over roofs and landscapes,
With a passionate desire
To hunt the rats in my dreams.
I have seen how the cat asleep
Would undulate, how the night flowed
Through it like dark water and at times,
It was going to fall or possibly
Plunge into the bare deserted snowdrifts.
Sometimes it grew so much in sleep
Like a tiger's great-grandfather,
And would leap in the darkness over
Rooftops, clouds and volcanoes.
Sleep, sleep cat of the night with
Episcopal ceremony and your stone-carved moustache.
Take care of all our dreams
Control the obscurity
Of our slumbering prowess
With your relentless HEART
And the great ruff of your tail.
Allen Ginsberg |
Millions of babies watching the skies
Bellies swollen, with big round eyes
On Jessore Road--long bamboo huts
Noplace to shit but sand channel ruts
Millions of fathers in rain
Millions of mothers in pain
Millions of brothers in woe
Millions of sisters nowhere to go
One Million aunts are dying for bread
One Million uncles lamenting the dead
Grandfather millions homeless and sad
Grandmother millions silently mad
Millions of daughters walk in the mud
Millions of children wash in the flood
A Million girls vomit & groan
Millions of families hopeless alone
Millions of souls nineteenseventyone
homeless on Jessore road under grey sun
A million are dead, the million who can
Walk toward Calcutta from East Pakistan
Taxi September along Jessore Road
Oxcart skeletons drag charcoal load
past watery fields thru rain flood ruts
Dung cakes on treetrunks, plastic-roof huts
Wet processions Families walk
Stunted boys big heads don't talk
Look bony skulls & silent round eyes
Starving black angels in human disguise
Mother squats weeping & points to her sons
Standing thin legged like elderly nuns
small bodied hands to their mouths in prayer
Five months small food since they settled there
on one floor mat with small empty pot
Father lifts up his hands at their lot
Tears come to their mother's eye
Pain makes mother Maya cry
Two children together in palmroof shade
Stare at me no word is said
Rice ration, lentils one time a week
Milk powder for warweary infants meek
No vegetable money or work for the man
Rice lasts four days eat while they can
Then children starve three days in a row
and vomit their next food unless they eat slow.
On Jessore road Mother wept at my knees
Bengali tongue cried mister Please
Identity card torn up on the floor
Husband still waits at the camp office door
Baby at play I was washing the flood
Now they won't give us any more food
The pieces are here in my celluloid purse
Innocent baby play our death curse
Two policemen surrounded by thousands of boys
Crowded waiting their daily bread joys
Carry big whistles & long bamboo sticks
to whack them in line They play hungry tricks
Breaking the line and jumping in front
Into the circle sneaks one skinny runt
Two brothers dance forward on the mud stage
Teh gaurds blow their whistles & chase them in rage
Why are these infants massed in this place
Laughing in play & pushing for space
Why do they wait here so cheerful & dread
Why this is the House where they give children bread
The man in the bread door Cries & comes out
Thousands of boys and girls Take up his shout
Is it joy? is it prayer? "No more bread today"
Thousands of Children at once scream "Hooray!"
Run home to tents where elders await
Messenger children with bread from the state
No bread more today! & and no place to squat
Painful baby, sick shit he has got.
Malnutrition skulls thousands for months
Dysentery drains bowels all at once
Nurse shows disease card Enterostrep
Suspension is wanting or else chlorostrep
Refugee camps in hospital shacks
Newborn lay naked on mother's thin laps
Monkeysized week old Rheumatic babe eye
Gastoenteritis Blood Poison thousands must die
September Jessore Road rickshaw
50,000 souls in one camp I saw
Rows of bamboo huts in the flood
Open drains, & wet families waiting for food
Border trucks flooded, food cant get past,
American Angel machine please come fast!
Where is Ambassador Bunker today?
Are his Helios machinegunning children at play?
Where are the helicopters of U.
Smuggling dope in Bangkok's green shade.
Where is America's Air Force of Light?
Bombing North Laos all day and all night?
Where are the President's Armies of Gold?
Billionaire Navies merciful Bold?
Bringing us medicine food and relief?
Napalming North Viet Nam and causing more grief?
Where are our tears? Who weeps for the pain?
Where can these families go in the rain?
Jessore Road's children close their big eyes
Where will we sleep when Our Father dies?
Whom shall we pray to for rice and for care?
Who can bring bread to this shit flood foul'd lair?
Millions of children alone in the rain!
Millions of children weeping in pain!
Ring O ye tongues of the world for their woe
Ring out ye voices for Love we don't know
Ring out ye bells of electrical pain
Ring in the conscious of America brain
How many children are we who are lost
Whose are these daughters we see turn to ghost?
What are our souls that we have lost care?
Ring out ye musics and weep if you dare--
Cries in the mud by the thatch'd house sand drain
Sleeps in huge pipes in the wet shit-field rain
waits by the pump well, Woe to the world!
whose children still starve in their mother's arms curled.
Is this what I did to myself in the past?
What shall I do Sunil Poet I asked?
Move on and leave them without any coins?
What should I care for the love of my loins?
What should we care for our cities and cars?
What shall we buy with our Food Stamps on Mars?
How many millions sit down in New York
& sup this night's table on bone & roast pork?
How many millions of beer cans are tossed
in Oceans of Mother? How much does She cost?
Cigar gasolines and asphalt car dreams
Stinking the world and dimming star beams--
Finish the war in your breast with a sigh
Come tast the tears in your own Human eye
Pity us millions of phantoms you see
Starved in Samsara on planet TV
How many millions of children die more
before our Good Mothers perceive the Great Lord?
How many good fathers pay tax to rebuild
Armed forces that boast the children they've killed?
How many souls walk through Maya in pain
How many babes in illusory pain?
How many families hollow eyed lost?
How many grandmothers turning to ghost?
How many loves who never get bread?
How many Aunts with holes in their head?
How many sisters skulls on the ground?
How many grandfathers make no more sound?
How many fathers in woe
How many sons nowhere to go?
How many daughters nothing to eat?
How many uncles with swollen sick feet?
Millions of babies in pain
Millions of mothers in rain
Millions of brothers in woe
Millions of children nowhere to go
New York, November 14-16, 1971
Donald Hall |
To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content.
But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.
Anne Sexton |
In my dream,
drilling into the marrow
of my entire bone,
my real dream,
I'm walking up and down Beacon Hill
searching for a street sign --
namely MERCY STREET.
I try the Back Bay.
And yet I know the number.
45 Mercy Street.
I know the stained-glass window
of the foyer,
the three flights of the house
with its parquet floors.
I know the furniture and
mother, grandmother, great-grandmother,
I know the cupboard of Spode
the boat of ice, solid silver,
where the butter sits in neat squares
like strange giant's teeth
on the big mahogany table.
I know it well.
Where did you go?
45 Mercy Street,
kneeling in her whale-bone corset
and praying gently but fiercely
to the wash basin,
at five A.
dozing in her wiggy rocker,
grandfather taking a nap in the pantry,
grandmother pushing the bell for the downstairs maid,
and Nana rocking Mother with an oversized flower
on her forehead to cover the curl
of when she was good and when she was.
And where she was begat
and in a generation
the third she will beget,
with the stranger's seed blooming
into the flower called Horrid.
I walk in a yellow dress
and a white pocketbook stuffed with cigarettes,
enough pills, my wallet, my keys,
and being twenty-eight, or is it forty-five?
I hold matches at street signs
for it is dark,
as dark as the leathery dead
and I have lost my green Ford,
my house in the suburbs,
two little kids
sucked up like pollen by the bee in me
and a husband
who has wiped off his eyes
in order not to see my inside out
and I am walking and looking
and this is no dream
just my oily life
where the people are alibis
and the street is unfindable for an
Pull the shades down --
I don't care!
Bolt the door, mercy,
erase the number,
rip down the street sign,
what can it matter,
what can it matter to this cheapskate
who wants to own the past
that went out on a dead ship
and left me only with paper?
I open my pocketbook,
as women do,
and fish swim back and forth
between the dollars and the lipstick.
I pick them out,
one by one
and throw them at the street signs,
and shoot my pocketbook
into the Charles River.
Next I pull the dream off
and slam into the cement wall
of the clumsy calendar
I live in,
and its hauled up
Anne Sexton |
"Angels of the love affair, do you know that other,
the dark one, that other me?"
ANGEL OF FIRE AND GENITALS
Angel of fire and genitals, do you know slime,
that green mama who first forced me to sing,
who put me first in the latrine, that pantomime
of brown where I was beggar and she was king?
I said, "The devil is down that festering hole.
Then he bit me in the buttocks and took over my soul.
Fire woman, you of the ancient flame, you
of the Bunsen burner, you of the candle,
you of the blast furnace, you of the barbecue,
you of the fierce solar energy, Mademoiselle,
take some ice, take come snow, take a month of rain
and you would gutter in the dark, cracking up your brain.
Mother of fire, let me stand at your devouring gate
as the sun dies in your arms and you loosen it's terrible weight.
ANGEL OF CLEAN SHEETS
Angel of clean sheets, do you know bedbugs?
Once in the madhouse they came like specks of cinnamon
as I lay in a choral cave of drugs,
as old as a dog, as quiet as a skeleton.
Little bits of dried blood.
One hundred marks
upon the sheet.
One hundred kisses in the dark.
White sheets smelling of soap and Clorox
have nothing to do with this night of soil,
nothing to do with barred windows and multiple locks
and all the webbing in the bed, the ultimate recoil.
I have slept in silk and in red and in black.
I have slept on sand and, on fall night, a haystack.
I have known a crib.
I have known the tuck-in of a child
but inside my hair waits the night I was defiled.
ANGEL OF FLIGHT AND SLEIGH BELLS
Angel of flight and sleigh bells, do you know paralysis,
that ether house where your arms and legs are cement?
You are as still as a yardstick.
You have a doll's kiss.
The brain whirls in a fit.
The brain is not evident.
I have gone to that same place without a germ or a stroke.
A little solo act--that lady with the brain that broke.
In this fashion I have become a tree.
I have become a vase you can pick up or drop at will,
inanimate at last.
What unusual luck! My body
Part of the leftovers.
Part of the kill.
Angels of flight, you soarer, you flapper, you floater,
you gull that grows out of my back in the drreams I prefer,
But give me the totem.
Give me the shut eye
where I stand in stone shoes as the world's bicycle goes by.
ANGEL OF HOPE AND CALENDARS
Angel of hope and calendars, do you know despair?
That hole I crawl into with a box of Kleenex,
that hole where the fire woman is tied to her chair,
that hole where leather men are wringing their necks,
where the sea has turned into a pond of urine.
There is no place to wash and no marine beings to stir in.
In this hole your mother is crying out each day.
Your father is eating cake and digging her grave.
In this hole your baby is strangling.
Your mouth is clay.
Your eyes are made of glass.
You are not brave.
You are alone like a dog in a kennel.
break out in boils.
Your arms are cut and bound by bands
Your voice is out there.
Your voice is strange.
There are no prayers here.
Here there is no change.
ANGEL OF BLIZZARDS AND BLACKOUTS
Angle of blizzards and blackouts, do you know raspberries,
those rubies that sat in the gree of my grandfather's garden?
You of the snow tires, you of the sugary wings, you freeze
Leet me crawl through the patch.
Let me be ten.
Let me pick those sweet kisses, thief that I was,
as the sea on my left slapped its applause.
Only my grandfather was allowed there.
Or the maid
who came with a scullery pan to pick for breakfast.
She of the rols that floated in the air, she of the inlaid
woodwork all greasy with lemon, she of the feather and dust,
Nonetheless I came sneaking across the salt lawn
in bare feet and jumping-jack pajamas in the spongy dawn.
Oh Angel of the blizzard and blackout, Madam white face,
take me back to that red mouth, that July 21st place.
ANGEL OF BEACH HOUSES AND PICNICS
Angel of beach houses and picnics, do you know solitaire?
Fifty-two reds and blacks and only myslef to blame.
My blood buzzes like a hornet's nest.
I sit in a kitchen chair
at a table set for one.
The silverware is the same
and the glass and the sugar bowl.
I hear my lungs fill and expel
as in an operation.
But I have no one left to tell.
Once I was a couple.
I was my own king and queen
with cheese and bread and rosé on the rocks of Rockport.
Once I sunbathed in the buff, all brown and lean,
watching the toy sloops go by, holding court
for busloads of tourists.
Once I called breakfast the sexiest
meal of the day.
Once I invited arrest
at the peace march in Washington.
Once I was young and bold
and left hundreds of unmatched people out in the cold.
Etheridge Knight |
Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black
faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-
fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews.
across the space at me sprawling on my bunk.
their dark eyes, they know mine.
I know their style,
they know mine.
I am all of them, they are all of me;
they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.
I have at one time or another been in love with my mother,
1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum),
and 5 cousins.
I am now in love with a 7-yr-old niece
(she sends me letters in large block print, and
her picture is the only one that smiles at me).
I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews,
and 1 uncle.
The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took
off and caught a freight (they say).
He's discussed each year
when the family has a reunion, he causes uneasiness in
the clan, he is an empty space.
My father's mother, who is 93
and who keeps the Family Bible with everbody's birth dates
(and death dates) in it, always mentions him.
There is no
place in her Bible for "whereabouts unknown.
Alfred Lord Tennyson |
And Willy, my eldest-born, is gone, you say, little Anne?
Ruddy and white, and strong on his legs, he looks like a man.
And Willy's wife has written: she never was over-wise,
Never the wife for Willy: he would n't take my advice.
For, Annie, you see, her father was not the man to save,
Had n't a head to manage, and drank himself into his grave.
Pretty enough, very pretty! but I was against it for one.
Eh!--but he would n't hear me--and Willy, you say, is gone.
Willy, my beauty, my eldest-born, the flower of the flock;
Never a man could fling him: for Willy stood like a rock.
`Here's a leg for a babe of a week!' says doctor; and he would be bound,
There was not his like that year in twenty parishes round.
Strong of his hands, and strong on his legs, but still of his tongue!
I ought to have gone before him: I wonder he went so young.
I cannot cry for him, Annie: I have not long to stay;
Perhaps I shall see him the sooner, for he lived far away.
Why do you look at me, Annie? you think I am hard and cold;
But all my children have gone before me, I am so old:
I cannot weep for Willy, nor can I weep for the rest;
Only at your age, Annie, I could have wept with the best.
For I remember a quarrel I had with your father, my dear,
All for a slanderous story, that cost me many a tear.
I mean your grandfather, Annie: it cost me a world of woe,
Seventy years ago, my darling, seventy years ago.
For Jenny, my cousin, had come to the place, and I knew right well
That Jenny had tript in her time: I knew, but I would not tell.
And she to be coming and slandering me, the base little liar!
But the tongue is a fire as you know, my dear, the tongue is a fire.
And the parson made it his text that week, and he said likewise,
That a lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies,
That a lie which is all a lie may be met and fought with outright,
But a lie which is part a truth is a harder matter to fight.
And Willy had not been down to the farm for a week and a day;
And all things look'd half-dead, tho' it was the middle of May.
Jenny, to slander me, who knew what Jenny had been!
But soiling another, Annie, will never make oneself clean.
And I cried myself well-nigh blind, and all of an evening late
I climb'd to the top of the garth, and stood by the road at the gate.
The moon like a rick on fire was rising over the dale,
And whit, whit, whit, in the bush beside me chirrupt the nightingale.
All of a sudden he stopt: there past by the gate of the farm,
Willy,--he did n't see me,--and Jenny hung on his arm.
Out into the road I started, and spoke I scarce knew how;
Ah, there's no fool like the old one -- it makes me angry now.
Willy stood up like a man, and look'd the thing that he meant;
Jenny, the viper, made me a mocking courtesy and went.
And I said, `Let us part: in a hundred years it'll all be the same,
You cannot love me at all, if you love not my good name.
And he turn'd, and I saw his eyes all wet, in the sweet moonshine:
Sweetheart, I love you so well that your good name is mine.
And what do I care for Jane, let her speak of you well of ill;
But marry me out of hand: we two shall be happy still.
`Marry you, Willy!' said I, `but I needs must speak my mind,
And I fear you'll listen to tales, be jealous and hard and unkind.
But he turn'd and claspt me in his arms, and answer'd, `No, love, no;'
Seventy years ago, my darling, seventy years ago.
So Willy and I were wedded: I wore a lilac gown;
And the ringers rang with a will, and he gave the ringers a crown.
But the first that ever I bare was dead before he was born,
Shadow and shine is life, little Annie, flower and thorn.
That was the first time, too, that ever I thought of death.
There lay the sweet little body that never had drawn a breath.
I had not wept, little Anne, not since I had been a wife;
But I wept like a child that day, for the babe had fought for his life.
His dear little face was troubled, as if with anger or pain:
I look'd at the still little body--his trouble had all been in vain.
For Willy I cannot weep, I shall see him another morn:
But I wept like a child for the child that was dead before he was born.
But he cheer'd me, my good man, for he seldom said me nay:
Kind, like a man, was he; like a man, too, would have his way:
Never jealous--not he: we had many a happy year;
And he died, and I could not weep--my own time seem'd so near.
But I wish'd it had been God's will that I, too, then could have died:
I began to be tired a little, and fain had slept at his side.
And that was ten years back, or more, if I don't forget:
But as to the children, Annie, they're all about me yet.
Pattering over the boards, my Annie who left me at two,
Patter she goes, my own little Annie, an Annie like you:
Pattering over the boards, she comes and goes at her will,
While Harry is in the five-acre and Charlie ploughing the hill.
And Harry and Charlie, I hear them too--they sing to their team:
Often they come to the door in a pleasant kind of a dream.
They come and sit by my chair, they hover about my bed--
I am not always certain if they be alive or dead.
And yet I know for a truth, there's none of them left alive;
For Harry went at sixty, your father at sixty- five:
And Willy, my eldest born, at nigh threescore and ten;
I knew them all as babies, and now they're elderly men.
For mine is a time of peace, it is not often I grieve;
I am oftener sitting at home in my father's farm at eve:
And the neighbors come and laugh and gossip, and so do I;
I find myself often laughing at things that have long gone by.
To be sure the preacher says, our sins should make us sad:
But mine is a time of peace, and there is Grace to be had;
And God, not man, is the Judge of us all when life shall cease;
And in this Book, little Annie, the message is one of Peace.
And age is a time of peace, so it be free from pain,
And happy has been my life; but I would not live it again.
I seem to be tired a little, that's all, and long for rest;
Only at your age, Annie, I could have wept with the best.
So Willy has gone, my beauty, my eldest-born, my flower;
But how can I weep for Willy, he has but gone for an hour,--
Gone for a minute, my son, from this room into the next;
I, too, shall go in a minute.
What time have I to be vext?
And Willy's wife has written, she never was over-wise.
Get me my glasses, Annie: thank God that I keep my eyes.
There is but a trifle left you, when I shall have past away.
But stay with the old woman now: you cannot have long to stay.
Russell Edson |
We bought an electric monkey, experimenting rather
recklessly with funds carefully gathered since
grandfather's time for the purchase of a steam monkey.
We had either, by this time, the choice of an electric
or gas monkey.
The steam monkey is no longer being made, said the monkey
But the family always planned on a steam monkey.
Well, said the monkey merchant, just as the wind-up monkey
gave way to the steam monkey, the steam monkey has given way
to the gas and electric monkeys.
Is that like the grandfather clock being replaced by the
Sort of, said the monkey merchant.
So we bought the electric monkey, and plugged its umbilical
cord into the wall.
The smoke coming out of its fur told us something was wrong.
We had electrocuted the family monkey.
Philip Levine |
All afternoon my father drove the country roads
between Detroit and Lansing.
What he was looking for
I never learned, no doubt because he never knew himself,
though he would grab any unfamiliar side road
and follow where it led past fields of tall sweet corn
in August or in winter those of frozen sheaves.
Often he'd leave the Terraplane beside the highway
to enter the stunned silence of mid-September,
his eyes cast down for a sign, the only music
his own breath or the wind tracking slowly through
the stalks or riding above the barren ground.
he'd come home, his dress shoes coated with dust or mud,
his long black overcoat stained or tattered
at the hem, sit wordless in his favorite chair,
his necktie loosened, and stare at nothing.
my brothers and I tried conversation, questions
only he could answer: Why had he gone to war?
Where did he learn Arabic? Where was his father?
I remember none of this.
I read it all later,
years later as an old man, a grandfather myself,
in a journal he left my mother with little drawings
of ruined barns and telephone poles, receding
toward a future he never lived, aphorisms
from Montaigne, Juvenal, Voltaire, and perhaps a few
of his own: "He who looks for answers finds questions.
Three times he wrote, "I was meant to be someone else,"
and went on to describe the perfumes of the damp fields.
"It all starts with seeds," and a pencil drawing
of young apple trees he saw somewhere or else dreamed.
I inherited the book when I was almost seventy
and with it the need to return to who we were.
In the Detroit airport I rented a Taurus;
the woman at the counter was bored or crazy:
Did I want company? she asked; she knew every road
from here to Chicago.
She had a slight accent,
Dutch or German, long black hair, and one frozen eye.
I considered but decided to go alone,
determined to find what he had never found.
Slowly the autumn morning warmed, flocks of starlings
rose above the vacant fields and blotted out the sun.
I drove on until I found the grove of apple trees
heavy with fruit, and left the car, the motor running,
beside a sagging fence, and entered his life
on my own for maybe the first time.
A crow welcomed
me home, the sun rode above, austere and silent,
the early afternoon was cloudless, perfect.
When the crow dragged itself off to another world,
the shade deepened slowly in pools that darkened around
the trees; for a moment everything in sight stopped.
The wind hummed in my good ear, not words exactly,
not nonsense either, nor what I spoke to myself,
just the language creation once wakened to.
I took off my hat, a mistake in the presence
of my father's God, wiped my brow with what I had,
the back of my hand, and marveled at what was here:
nothing at all except the stubbornness of things.
Laure-Anne Bosselaar |
Doors were left open in heaven again:
drafts wheeze, clouds wrap their ripped pages
around roofs and trees.
Like wet flags, shutters
flap and fold.
Even light is blown out of town,
its last angles caught in sopped
newspaper wings and billowing plastic —
all this in one American street.
Elsewhere, somewhere, a tide
recedes, incense is lit, an infant
sucks from a nipple, a grenade
shrieks, a man buys his first cane.
Think of it: the worlds in this world.
Yesterday, while a Chinese woman took
hours to sew seven silk stitches into a tapestry
started generations ago, guards took only
seconds to mop up a cannibal’s brain from the floor
of a Wisconsin jail, while the man who bashed
the killer’s head found no place to hide,
and sat sobbing for his mother in a shower stall —
the worlds in this world.
Or say, one year — say 1916:
while my grandfather, a prisoner of war
in Holland, sewed perfect, eighteen-buttoned
booties for his wife with the skin of a dead
dog found in a trench; shrapnel slit
Apollinaire's skull, Jesuits brandished
crucifixes in Ouagadougou, and the Parthenon
was already in ruins.
That year, thousands and thousands of Jews
from the Holocaust were already — were
still ¬— busy living their lives;
while gnawed by self-doubt, Rilke couldn’t
write a line for weeks inVienna’s Victorgasse,
and fishermen drowned off Finnish coasts,
and lovers kissed for the very first time,
while in Kashmir an old woman fell asleep,
her cheek on her good husband's belly.
And all along that year the winds
kept blowing as they do today, above oceans
and steeples, and this one speck of dust
was lifted from somewhere to land exactly
here, on my desk, and will lift again — into
the worlds in this world.
Say now, at this instant:
one thornless rose opens in a blue jar above
that speck, but you — reading this — know
nothing of how it came to flower here, and I
nothing of who bred it, or where, nothing
of my son and daughter’s fate, of what grows
in your garden or behind the walls of your chest:
is it longing? Fear? Will it matter?
Listen to that wind, listen to it ranting
The doors of heaven never close,
that’s the Curse, that’s the Miracle.
Elizabeth Bishop |
Although it is a cold evening,
down by one of the fishhouses
an old man sits netting,
his net, in the gloaming almost invisible,
a dark purple-brown,
and his shuttle worn and polished.
The air smells so strong of codfish
it makes one's nose run and one's eyes water.
The five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs
and narrow, cleated gangplanks slant up
to storerooms in the gables
for the wheelbarrows to be pushed up and down on.
All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea,
swelling slowly as if considering spilling over,
is opaque, but the silver of the benches,
the lobster pots, and masts, scattered
among the wild jagged rocks,
is of an apparent translucence
like the small old buildings with an emerald moss
growing on their shoreward walls.
The big fish tubs are completely lined
with layers of beautiful herring scales
and the wheelbarrows are similarly plastered
with creamy iridescent coats of mail,
with small iridescent flies crawling on them.
Up on the little slope behind the houses,
set in the sparse bright sprinkle of grass,
is an ancient wooden capstan,
cracked, with two long bleached handles
and some melancholy stains, like dried blood,
where the ironwork has rusted.
The old man accepts a Lucky Strike.
He was a friend of my grandfather.
We talk of the decline in the population
and of codfish and herring
while he waits for a herring boat to come in.
There are sequins on his vest and on his thumb.
He has scraped the scales, the principal beauty,
from unnumbered fish with that black old knife,
the blade of which is almost worn away.
Down at the water's edge, at the place
where they haul up the boats, up the long ramp
descending into the water, thin silver
tree trunks are laid horizontally
across the gray stones, down and down
at intervals of four or five feet.
Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
element bearable to no mortal,
to fish and to seals .
One seal particularly
I have seen here evening after evening.
He was curious about me.
He was interested in music;
like me a believer in total immersion,
so I used to sing him Baptist hymns.
I also sang "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.
He stood up in the water and regarded me
steadily, moving his head a little.
Then he would disappear, then suddenly emerge
almost in the same spot, with a sort of shrug
as if it were against his better judgment.
Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
the clear gray icy water .
Back, behind us,
the dignified tall firs begin.
Bluish, associating with their shadows,
a million Christmas trees stand
waiting for Christmas.
The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.
Delmore Schwartz |
The children of the Czar
Played with a bouncing ball
In the May morning, in the Czar's garden,
Tossing it back and forth.
It fell among the flowerbeds
Or fled to the north gate.
A daylight moon hung up
In the Western sky, bald white.
Like Papa's face, said Sister,
Hurling the white ball forth.
While I ate a baked potato
Six thousand miles apart,
In Brooklyn, in 1916,
Aged two, irrational.
When Franklin D.
Was an Arrow Collar ad.
O Nicholas! Alas! Alas!
My grandfather coughed in your army,
Hid in a wine-stinking barrel,
For three days in Bucharest
Then left for America
To become a king himself.
I am my father's father,
You are your children's guilt.
In history's pity and terror
The child is Aeneas again;
Troy is in the nursery,
The rocking horse is on fire.
Child labor! The child must carry
His fathers on his back.
But seeing that so much is past
And that history has no ruth
For the individual,
Who drinks tea, who catches cold,
Let anger be general:
I hate an abstract thing.
Brother and sister bounced
The bounding, unbroken ball,
The shattering sun fell down
Like swords upon their play,
Moving eastward among the stars
Toward February and October.
But the Maywind brushed their cheeks
Like a mother watching sleep,
And if for a moment they fight
Over the bouncing ball
And sister pinches brother
And brother kicks her shins,
Well! The heart of man in known:
It is a cactus bloom.
The ground on which the ball bounces
Is another bouncing ball.
The wheeling, whirling world
Makes no will glad.
Spinning in its spotlight darkness,
It is too big for their hands.
A pitiless, purposeless Thing,
Arbitrary, and unspent,
Made for no play, for no children,
But chasing only itself.
The innocent are overtaken,
They are not innocent.
They are their father's fathers,
The past is inevitable.
Now, in another October
Of this tragic star,
I see my second year,
I eat my baked potato.
It is my buttered world,
But, poked by my unlearned hand,
It falls from the highchair down
And I begin to howl
And I see the ball roll under
The iron gate which is locked.
Sister is screaming, brother is howling,
The ball has evaded their will.
Even a bouncing ball
And is under the garden wall.
I am overtaken by terror
Thinking of my father's fathers,
And of my own will.
T S (Thomas Stearns) Eliot |
En l’an trentiesme do mon aage
Que toutes mes hontes j’ay beues.
PIPIT sate upright in her chair
Some distance from where I was sitting;
Views of the Oxford Colleges
Lay on the table, with the knitting.
Daguerreotypes and silhouettes,
Here grandfather and great great aunts,
Supported on the mantelpiece
An Invitation to the Dance.
I shall not want Honour in Heaven
For I shall meet Sir Philip Sidney
And have talk with Coriolanus
And other heroes of that kidney.
I shall not want Capital in Heaven
For I shall meet Sir Alfred Mond.
We two shall lie together, lapt
In a five per cent.
I shall not want Society in Heaven,
Lucretia Borgia shall be my Bride;
Her anecdotes will be more amusing
Than Pipit’s experience could provide.
I shall not want Pipit in Heaven:
Madame Blavatsky will instruct me
In the Seven Sacred Trances;
Piccarda de Donati will conduct me.
But where is the penny world I bought
To eat with Pipit behind the screen?
The red-eyed scavengers are creeping
From Kentish Town and Golder’s Green;
Where are the eagles and the trumpets?
Buried beneath some snow-deep Alps.
Over buttered scones and crumpets
Weeping, weeping multitudes
Droop in a hundred A.
Anne Sexton |
Inside many of us
is a small old man
who wants to get out.
No bigger than a two-year-old
whom you'd call lamb chop
yet this one is old and malformed.
His head is okay
but the rest of him wasn't Sanforized?
He is a monster of despair.
He is all decay.
He speaks up as tiny as an earphone
with Truman's asexual voice:
I am your dwarf.
I am the enemy within.
I am the boss of your dreams.
I am not the law in your mind,
the grandfather of watchfulness.
I am the law of your members,
the kindred of blackness and impulse.
Your hand shakes.
It is not palsy or booze.
It is your Doppelganger
trying to get out.
There once was a miller
with a daughter as lovely as a grape.
He told the king that she could
spin gold out of common straw.
The king summoned the girl
and locked her in a room full of straw
and told her to spin it into gold
or she would die like a criminal.
Poor grape with no one to pick.
Luscious and round and sleek.
To die and never see Brooklyn.
of course, huge aquamarine tears.
The door opened and in popped a dwarf.
He was as ugly as a wart.
Little thing, what are you? she cried.
With his tiny no-sex voice he replied:
I am a dwarf.
I have been exhibited on Bond Street
and no child will ever call me Papa.
I have no private life.
If I'm in my cups the whole town knows by breakfast
and no child will ever call me Papa
I am eighteen inches high.
I am no bigger than a partridge.
I am your evil eye
and no child will ever call me Papa.
Stop this Papa foolishness,
Can you perhaps
spin straw into gold?
Yes indeed, he said,
that I can do.
He spun the straw into gold
and she gave him her necklace
as a small reward.
When the king saw what she had done
he put her in a bigger room of straw
and threatened death once more.
Again she cried.
Again the dwarf came.
Again he spun the straw into gold.
She gave him her ring
as a small reward.
The king put her in an even bigger room
but this time he promised
to marry her if she succeeded.
Again she cried.
Again the dwarf came.
But she had nothing to give him.
Without a reward the dwarf would not spin.
He was on the scent of something bigger.
He was a regular bird dog.
Give me your first-born
and I will spin.
She thought: Piffle!
He is a silly little man.
And so she agreed.
So he did the trick.
Gold as good as Fort Knox.
The king married her
and within a year
a son was born.
He was like most new babies,
as ugly as an artichoke
but the queen thought him in pearl.
She gave him her dumb lactation,
delicate, trembling, hidden,
And then the dwarf appeared
to claim his prize.
Indeed! I have become a papa!
cried the little man.
She offered him all the kingdom
but he wanted only this -
a living thing
to call his own.
And being mortal
who can blame him?
The queen cried two pails of sea water.
She was as persistent
as a Jehovah's Witness.
And the dwarf took pity.
He said: I will give you
three days to guess my name
and if you cannot do it
I will collect your child.
The queen sent messengers
throughout the land to find names
of the most unusual sort.
When he appeared the next day
she asked: Melchior?
But each time the dwarf replied:
No! No! That's not my name.
The next day she asked:
But it was still no-no.
On the third day the messenger
came back with a strange story.
He told her:
As I came around the corner of the wood
where the fox says good night to the hare
I saw a little house with a fire
burning in front of it.
Around that fire a ridiculous little man
was leaping on one leg and singing:
Today I bake.
Tomorrow I brew my beer.
The next day the queen's only child will be mine.
Not even the census taker knows
that Rumpelstiltskin is my name .
The queen was delighted.
She had the name!
Her breath blew bubbles.
When the dwarf returned
she called out:
Is your name by any chance Rumpelstiltskin?
He cried: The devil told you that!
He stamped his right foot into the ground
and sank in up to his waist.
Then he tore himself in two.
Somewhat like a split broiler.
He laid his two sides down on the floor,
one part soft as a woman,
one part a barbed hook,
one part papa,
one part Doppelganger.